Priest on Leave after Probe

By Stephenie Steitzer
The Kentucky Post [Covington KY]
January 3, 2005

A Diocese of Covington priest who was being investigated for inappropriate relations with women told his parish during weekend Masses that Bishop Roger Foys has asked him to take a leave of absence.

Rev. Mark Witte, pastor of St. Timothy Church in Union, told his parish he was going on a spiritual retreat and intended to return, parishioner Mike Vogt of Walton said.

Witte, who was previously investigated for an inappropriate relationship with a woman, has been under investigation by the diocese since December 2003.

Diocese spokesman Tim Fitzgerald confirmed Witte was asked by Foys and his advisers to take a leave of absence.

The bishop will later decide whether Witte would return to St. Timothy or be assigned to another position within the diocese.

A letter written by Foys will be read to St. Timothy's parishioners during next weekend's Masses to provide more detail into the situation, Fitzgerald said.

"This is a matter of courtesy to parishioners, who are the ones most affected by this situation," Fitzgerald said.

A Lakeside Park man and parishioner at Blessed Sacrament in Fort Mitchell -- where Witte formerly served -- accused Witte in 2003 of inappropriate behavior toward his wife and other women.

Don Zalla said Sunday that it was because the pastor's behavior extended beyond his wife that he fought to have Witte investigated.

"If this was an issue between Witte and my wife in a singular fashion, I would've long moved on," he said.

In December 2003, Zalla mailed a letter to hundreds of parishioners of St. Timothy and Blessed Sacrament, outlining sexual misconduct allegations against Witte.

Zalla complained in the letter that he filed a formal charge with the diocese's sexual abuse committee and was dissatisfied with both the response of Foys and the diocese.

"The diocese operates in sacred secrecy and cover up," he said. "This has only come about because of the steadfastness of certain people in the diocese, including the sexual abuse committee but excluding Bishop Foys."

The diocese took action after Zalla complained repeatedly to Foys that Witte was partly to blame for the breakup of his 19-year marriage.

Foys originally ended the investigation after both Witte and Zalla's former wife denied any inappropriate behavior.

Zalla said it's not his place to decide whether the bishop's suggestion to Witte to take a leave of absence is satisfactory.

"I feel that Father Witte needs a lot of help and I hope he gets it, but he has caused a lot of harm to families and he needs to recognize that," Zalla said.

Witte did not tell his parish when he would return as pastor, Vogt said.

He told parishioners that Rev. David Gamm, of St. Pius X Church in Edgewood, would take over administrative duties in the interim.

"I think people were surprised but supportive," Vogt said. "I think everybody hopes he'll be back soon."


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