Diocese Says Bishop Barred Priest in 2003
By Frank E. Lockwood
Herald-Leader [Lexington KY]
March 23, 2006
Lexington Catholic Bishop Ronald Gainer received "incontrovertible evidence" in 2003 that one of his priests had been credibly accused of sexually and psychologically abusing a 13-year-old girl.
But the diocese waited until yesterday to acknowledge publicly that it believed the allegations and had punished the priest.
Diocesan officials say that they permanently barred the Rev. Stephen F. Gallenstein from public ministry shortly after the allegations came to light. Gainer is also asking the Vatican to evict Gallenstein from the priesthood, a process known as laicization.
For more than two years, diocesan spokesman Tom Shaughnessy had insisted that no decisions had been made in Gallenstein's case.
But Cincinnati attorney Robert Steinberg contradicted the diocese in a recent interview.
"I personally met with the Lexington bishop and his administrator to provide them information to make sure that Gallenstein was removed from the priesthood ... and they assured me they would do that," he said. "That was a long time ago."
Told that the Herald-Leader was going to print Steinberg's statements in today's paper, the diocese announced the results of its investigation.
In a news release, the diocese said Gainer had been "presented with incontrovertible evidence that the allegation was credible" soon after learning of it in September 2003.
Gainer prohibited Gallenstein from celebrating Mass, wearing clerical attire or calling himself 'father.'
This is the second time since Gainer became bishop that the diocese has handed down lifetime suspensions against alleged child abusers without telling parishioners.
Gainer permanently barred the Rev. William J. Fedders from public ministry in September 2004, but Shaughnessy said that no decisions had been made about the priest's guilt or innocence. About eight months later, with the Herald-Leader preparing to print a story about Fedders' uncertain status, the diocese revealed its findings.
It's unclear why the diocese was reluctant to let people know the outcome of its investigations.
Shaughnessy did not answer written questions submitted yesterday. He did not return more than a half-dozen phone calls over the past month. Gainer could not be reached.
Gallenstein, who now lives in Maysville, declined to comment.
According to court documents, Gallenstein abused the girl for four years, beginning when she was 13, then stalked her for 10 years.
The alleged abuse, which started in the late 1970s, was reported to then-Covington Bishop William Hughes, court documents say. Hughes later appointed Gallenstein as the principal of the girl's school, court documents state. The priest later served in parishes across Eastern and Central Kentucky including Ravenna, Pikeville, Middlesboro, Morehead and Salyersville.
He was serving as sacramental minister at Good Shepherd parish in Frankfort when the allegations became public in September 2003 after a lawsuit was filed. Gainer suspended him soon after learning of the allegations, a diocesan spokesman said.
The church's 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, overwhelmingly approved by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, says that dioceses will be "open and transparent in communicating with the public about sexual abuse of minors by clergy within the confines of respect for the privacy and the reputation of the individuals involved."
Teresa Kettelkamp, executive director of the conference's Office of Child and Youth Protection, said the church is committed to transparency. But when it comes to releasing information, "It's in the bishop's discretion, just based on what he feels is best."
Jane Chiles of Lexington, a member of the conference's national review board for child and youth protection, said it is "disappointing" that the diocese has been so slow to inform the community.
Told that the diocese still hasn't completed Gallenstein's laicization paperwork for Rome, she said, "We know that the Vatican is incredibly cautious and slow to move in these areas, but we don't need to be dragging our feet here around our end of the operation."
But she expressed confidence in Gainer and said his leadership will be essential "in helping us to heal."
Critics say the diocese has a moral responsibility to investigate cases quickly and to release its findings publicly.
"I think that they ought to be ashamed of themselves for letting these cases languish and for not making speedy determinations of credibility. ... It's a matter of justice," said Terence McKiernan, co-director of bishopaccountability.org, a group that tracks the church's handling of sex abuse cases.
Chuck Arnold, a Lexington attorney with a client who was allegedly abused by a priest, said the church has been "incredibly dishonest."
"It's just indifference to the well-being of their parishioners. There's no other logical explanation for it that I can see," he said. "Every time something like this happens, it makes everyone else mistrust the church even more."
Reach Frank Lockwood at (859) 231-3211 or 800-950-6397 Ext. 3211 or email@example.com
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