Priest Eager to 'Re-Establish Trust'
Celebrates Mass As 'Visitor'
By Philip Elliott
Courier & Press [Evansville OH]
November 21, 2004
The Rev. William A. Traylor said he is eager to return to his two Evansville parishes after four months of therapy, which Catholic Church officials mandated after Traylor was caught viewing pornographic material on a parish computer while a child was in the room. Traylor, 54, returned to Evansville to celebrate Mass for the first time since he was caught viewing an "inappropriate adult Web site" July 9, and to talk about the incident, his treatment and his future at St. Theresa and St. Joseph parishes.
"I'm very embarrassed. I'm very sorry. I made a very stupid mistake to go online at an inappropriate adult Web site during a work day, and I'm very sorry about that," Traylor said. During St. Joseph's Summer Social, Traylor went to his office area behind a 6-foot partition. The cubicle walls shielded the computer screen from outsiders while he visited a pornographic Web site.
Meanwhile, a child sat on the other side of the partition.
"That's how out of balance I was at the time," Traylor said. "I've been a priest for 28 years. I served the church very well and I don't say that in a bragging fashion. I really think I have. Clearly, this behavior is not me. It doesn't correspond with who I am and what I'm about. That's why I've been in therapy for the last four months."
Traylor said he now recognizes the sins of the incident, which he said was the first of its nature, and described the day in detail.
"The man who observed me was able to look into this space over a partition. He didn't say anything to me. He left the room."
The priest said he didn't think anything of the shuffle outside his cubical.
"I heard him come in. But, again, it was Summer Social time," Traylor said. "People were coming in and out of the office all the time. Yeah, I heard him come in but it never entered my mind that he was even able look into my office space and see what I was doing. ... When you're 5-foot-8½, and you can't see it, you think nobody can see it." But the witness did and contacted diocesan officials. Vicar General Monsignor Kenneth Knapp called Traylor later that day to confront him on the incident. After the meeting with Knapp, the diocese's second in command, Traylor said he knew the incident was going to be problematic. The person who caught him had told other parishioners and church staff at the continuing social. Word was traveling quickly among both church's parishioners.
That evening, Traylor met with the child's family to explain what had happened and what likely was about to follow.
"I said there is a suggestion that perhaps your child was endangered in this regard. And I said, 'I want to assure you that I did nothing to harm your child.' And they said, 'We believe you.' They then spoke to their child and came back to me and said, 'We continue to believe you.'"
Even so, the diocese followed its child-protection policy fully. Officials convened the Diocesan Review Board, a panel designed to investigate any potential instances of child abuse. Bishop Gerald Gettelfinger urged Traylor to seek counselling.
The diocese also referred the matter to Child Protective Services. The internal report found Traylor had not abused the child, and Child Protective Services came to a similar conclusion.
But after reports about the incident and Traylor's absence ran in the Courier & Press, Vanderburgh County Prosecutor Stan Levco asked to read the results of the two previous investigations and commissioned a report of his own, which determined Traylor had not broken the law.
"My behavior and actions were investigated by three different agencies," Traylor said. "All three of them said no child was endangered and that's the truth. I have never endangered a child. This may sort of look like that, but this child was not endangered. In my entire ministry and service I have not endangered a child."
Of the three groups who cleared him of any legal problems, Traylor said he met with the Diocesan Review Board only.
Since he took leave, Traylor has spent up to 20 hours each week in "intensive outpatient" group and individual therapy sessions at St. Louis Behavioral Medicine Institute.
And coupled with the therapy, Traylor has asked workers to reconfigure his office so his computer screen is visible to everyone. Also, Internet filters now block adult Internet sites.
"We live in a culture in which pornography is available everywhere," Traylor said. "It's about making the internal choices to make sure that you don't do that. That's what therapy's about."
Traylor met with reporters Saturday to avoid a fracas during the five Masses he celebrated this weekend as a visitor. He will return full time to active duties Dec. 18, the weekend before Christmas.
"I was a pretty hot news item in August," Traylor said. "When I sent a letter to my parishioners this past week that I was going to be returning for this weekend and then in December, I hit the front page of the paper again. It just seemed like really a smart thing to do, to speak to the media and answer questions, in a sense, come to the horse's mouth."
He said the story, thus far, has been misframed.
"This story is not about children. ... It may be about human weakness. It may be about stupidity. But it's not about endangering children," Traylor said. "I can understand how scary it is for people to think . . . there have been priests who have harmed children, that, 'Could Father Traylor be doing this?' The fact is, I have endangered no one in my years of priesthood in service in the church. No child, nobody. Up until this time, my record was really good. That's part of the great embarrassment. I have done a very stupid and wrong thing."
The diocese has not placed any specific restrictions on Traylor, said Paul Leingang, director of communications. "This is a sin. There are thousands of sins that don't bring restrictions," Leingang said. "Father Traylor has taken steps of his own."
Traylor said he recognizes the challenges facing him, particularly among less-than-enthusiastic parishioners.
"I understand that anger," Traylor said. "I understand their disappointment. All I can say is I'm sorry and that I am committed to serving them as best I can. And hopefully, in that service, trust will be re-established. But at this point, it's only my words that can say that."
Still, he doesn't plan to leave active priesthood or the 2,400 parishioners he serves.
"I love the church, I love the priesthood. I was caught in a sin. It seems to me the heart of the church is this whole message about forgiveness, repentance, reconciliation," Traylor said. "I preach that a lot. Now I'll get to experience that in a brand new way. That's my hope."
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