Bishop Knocked for Handling of Leblanc Sex Abuse Case

By Charles Honey
Grand Rapids Press
January 19, 2007

A national advocacy group is taking Bishop Walter Hurley to task for his "reckless" handling of a sexual abuse case that led to the removal of a Caledonia priest.

In a letter sent to Hurley Thursday, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, calls on him to investigate why David LeBlanc was not removed after admitting to sexual abuse in 1993.

SNAP leaders also said Hurley was too slow to remove the former pastor of Holy Family Catholic Church in Caledonia after taking office in August 2005. Bishop Robert Rose was in charge of the diocese in 1993 and retired in 2003.

"A slow, casual process is reckless," stated the letter from SNAP President Barbara Blaine and National Outreach Director Barbara Dorris. Hurley owes the diocese "an apology and an explanation for this dangerous behavior," the letter stated.

Hurley has said he uncovered the abuse allegations while reviewing priests' files to ensure the diocese was complying with a bishops policy.

SNAP questioned that explanation, saying bishops making such claims typically are forced to act by an impending court order or someone threatening to go public.

"We're seeing time and time again the bishops are allowing the molester to serve until forced to do something, and it's usually by the victim," Dorris said later.

Hurley has said he removed LeBlanc after communicating with the victim and after the priest admitted the abuse. In a letter to Holy Family parishioners, LeBlanc wrote he admitted in 1993 to sexually abusing a boy in 1971, though he said there was no physical contact.

SNAP said Hurley should investigate why LeBlanc's admission remained "hidden" for so long, and find out "who is responsible for the unnecessary risk that perhaps hundreds of kids experienced because of this secrecy." Those responsible should be "exposed and disciplined," the letter stated.

Hurley was unavailable for comment. Diocesan spokeswoman Mary Haarman said the diocese has nothing to add to Hurley's previous statements.

"Bishop already disclosed publicly the process that took place in the recent removal of David LeBlanc," Haarman said. "He extended his apologies, and calls as we always have for victims to come forward."

No one else has contacted the diocese to allege abuse by LeBlanc, Haarman said.

Hurley plans to visit Holy Family parish to celebrate Mass, as he has at other parishes, but has not set a date.

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