Archbishop Withdraws Priest's Assignment

By Ken Kusmer
Associated Press, carried in Indianapolis Star
June 7, 2004

INDIANAPOLIS -- A Roman Catholic archbishop heeded parishioners' objections Monday and withdrew a proposed assignment for a priest who had been suspended for public indecency.

Indianapolis Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein had proposed the Rev. Ron Ashmore as administrator at a cluster of three rural parishes about 50 miles southeast of Indianapolis.

Ashmore, 59, was arrested in May 2003 after exposing himself to an undercover State Police officer at an interstate rest stop west of Indianapolis. At the time, he was pastor of a parish in Terre Haute, where he had ministered to Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh before his execution in 2001.

In a May 11 letter to parishioners, Buechlein said he wanted to hear their opinions before deciding whether to appoint Ashmore.

"Because there is conflict and objection, I have concluded it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for the parishes to accept his ministry. Therefore, I will not make this assignment," Buechlein said in a statement released Monday.

Ashmore remains on administrative leave and any future assignments remain undecided, said Susan Borcherts, a spokeswoman for the Indianapolis Archdiocese.

Ashmore had no comment on Buechlein's decision, she said. He does not have a published telephone number, and The Associated Press could not reach him for comment.

Parishioners at St. Maurice in Napoleon, St. Denis in Westport and Immaculate Conception in Millhousen learned of Buechlein's decision at Masses on Saturday and Sunday, Borcherts said.

Together, the parishes include about 400 households.

Jerry Diekhoff, a music minister at St. Denis, said some members of her parish and of Immaculate Conception felt the archdiocese had withheld some pertinent details about Ashmore. They learned more about Ashmore through relatives or other contacts in the archdiocese who were acquainted with him.

"It didn't have anything to do with forgiveness. We just felt all the information wasn't given to us," Diekhoff said in a telephone interview.

She did not disclose the nature of the information, but said it would be best if Diekhoff spent some years at a desk job at the chancellory in Indianapolis before returning to parish ministry.

"We want Father Ron to get the healing that he needs in his life," she said.

Ken Harmeyer of rural Batesville, chairman of the parish council at St. Maurice, said, "We told the archbishop how we felt, and he took it from there. Each parish spoke their piece."

Buechlein, at the time he proposed Ashmore's assignment last month, said he "would like to give him a second chance. We are the church, and being the church is about forgiving and being forgiven."

He reiterated in his statement Monday that "there has never been an allegation about Father Ashmore's behavior with children."

Ashmore's arrest came amid the scandal in the U.S. church over priests who had repeatedly abused children, in some cases with the knowledge of bishops who reassigned them.

The proposed assignment sparked protests by the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. David Clohessy, the Chicago-based group's executive director, criticized Buechlein for sending members of his Priest Personnel Board to meet with the parishioners instead of going himself.

"The outcome may have been different had the archbishop visited the parishes personally and been more forthcoming," Clohessy said.

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