Another Priest Removed after 1971 Sex Abuse

Muskegon Chronicle [Michigan]
January 9, 2007

For the second time in a month, a former Muskegon priest has been forced out of the clergy following allegations of sexual abuse while serving a parish here.

The Rev. David LeBlanc, who was most recently a priest at Holy Family in Caledonia, admitted to sexually abusing a pre-teen boy in Muskegon in 1971, according to Bishop Walter Hurley. Hurley said the victim in the latest case came forward in 1993, and that LeBlanc had acknowledged the abuse at that time, but the bishop couldn't explain why no action was taken at the time.

LeBlanc was serving at St. Jean Baptiste Catholic Church at the time of the abuse, but Hurley said the alleged incident did not happen at the church.

In December, the Rev. Michael Mc-Kenna, who served at Muskegon Heights' Sacred Heart Catholic Church in 1976 and 1977, was removed from public ministry due to substantial evidence he sexually abused several boys in the 1970s.

Information in both cases were turned over to Muskegon County Prosecutor Tony Tague, but the statute of limitations -- the maximum number of years following an act that the law says prosecution can take place -- has long since run out when it comes to pursuing a criminal case. In the case of McKenna, Tague said, "based on our review, if we had been able, we would have issued a warrant."

LeBlanc, 71, was permanently removed from active ministry last week, Hurley said. As such, LeBlanc cannot perform public ministry, cannot wear clerical clothing and cannot present himself as a priest.

Despite the fact the abuse took place in the St. Jean's parish, no information or special letter was provided to Muskegon parishioners.

"It took me totally by surprise," said Steve Gawron, a parishioner at St. Jean's Church and also acts as vice mayor of the city of Muskegon. "It's another kick in the pants for the faithful. It's very disheartening.

"The church didn't do this, these are the individual actions and sins of individual men," Gawron said. "The church is a body of Christ and that's not fallible, and these men obviously are."

"I'm quite involved with the parish and I've never heard anything about this," said Amy Brooks, a parishioner at St. Jean's and a religion instructor at Muskegon Catholic Central High School.

"It's heartbreaking," Brooks said. "(Abuse) is the story that people remember and they forget about all of the good work that (priests) do."

Hurley, who became bishop in 2005, said he came across the case in a review of files on priests who had been accused of abuse.

After talking to LeBlanc and communicating by e-mail with the victim, who is out of the country, Hurley said he had no choice but to remove LeBlanc under provisions of the U.S. bishops' charter on sexual abuse issued in 2002. The policy calls for permanently removing priests for a single, substantiated case of sexual abuse of a minor.

"I became aware of it and I believed I needed to do that," Hurley said. "I am obligated as a bishop to follow the requirements of the charter, for the well-being of the church and protection of victims."

Since the bishops' policy took effect, eight other priests in the diocese have been removed for abuse cases going back decades. Asked why LeBlanc was not removed earlier, Hurley said, "I just don't know the answer to that."

Most of the priests were removed by retired Bishop Robert Rose, who led the diocese from 1989 to 2003. Hurley would not second-guess why Rose did not remove LeBlanc soon after he admitted the abuse, saying before the U.S. bishops' policy "there was no consistency in the way cases were handled (and) there really was no road map people could follow."

"There obviously was a belief (LeBlanc) did not represent a danger to anyone," Hurley said. "I don't know of any bishop that would maintain somebody in a position if they really believed they were a danger to young people."

Rose could not be reached for comment.

Given the fact Rose retired a year after the national policy was passed, then his successor, Bishop Kevin Britt, died in 2004 and the diocese temporarily was managed by Monsignor William Duncan and Detroit's Cardinal Adam Maida, Hurley added, "It's not surprising something like this may not have been reviewed" before he took office.

Priests at the other parishes LeBlanc where served are to inform their parishioners. They include Blessed Sacrament, St. Francis Xavier and Holy Spirit in Grand Rapids. Although he has no reason to believe there are other victims, Hurley said, "if there are, we would want to know about it."

Hurley said there are no other allegations being investigated or cases pending to remove a priest in the diocese.

"To the best of my knowledge, this brings to a close where we had established or acknowledged cases of sexual abuse," he said.

He also said he was not aware of any common thread between LeBlanc's case and those of the three other priests removed for abuse who once served at Holy Family.

"I'm really saddened and I really apologize to the families who have been abused by priests or other representatives of the church," Hurley said.


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