Belmont County Priest Removed from Parish: Official Statement from Bishop R. Daniel Conlon

November 17, 2007

Effective today, I have withdrawn Father Gary A. Zalenski, who is currently serving as Pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Neffs, Ohio, from active ministry, as the result of a credible allegation of his having sexually assaulted a minor in 1991. He may not present himself as a priest or carry out any public function as a priest. Within a few days he will move from the rectory at Sacred Heart to a private residence of his own choosing.

The allegation was brought to the Diocese of Steubenville by a woman who was a young parishioner at Saints Peter and Paul Parish in Lore City, Ohio, where Father Zalenski was pastor at the time. All information about the matter obtained by the diocese has been communicated to the Guernsey County Prosecutor.

The matter will be referred to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, an office of the Holy See in Rome, for further action. This could take some time. In the meantime, Gary Zalenski will remain a priest of the Diocese of Steubenville, and the diocese will provide material assistance to him as needed.

This matter is being handled in full accord with the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People", which was adopted by the Catholic bishops of the United States in 2002, the "Essential Norms", which are special laws approved by the Pope for the United States to deal with child abuse, and the Diocese of Steubenville's "Decree on Child Protection".

As for Sacred Heart Parish in Neffs, I have appointed Monsignor Gene W. Mullett as Temporary Administrator, along with his other duties, and have asked him to provide special pastoral care to the people in this difficult moment. Monsignor Mullett is pastor St. Michael and St. John parishes in Bellaire.

This is all very painful. I am angered that a young member of the Church was apparently violated. I am embarrassed that the offender was a brother priest. I am troubled that absolute certainty about the matter is probably beyond my reach, and yet I must act. I grieve that two parishes and two families are thrown into turmoil.

In such a situation I look to Jesus on the cross. He took our sins and our brokenness upon himself and became the source of our healing.

Any person who has been sexually assaulted as a minor by a priest or other representative of the Diocese of Steubenville is encouraged to contact the diocese at 740-282-3631 as well as any local law enforcement agency.

Background: Father Zalenski, 56, was ordained to the priesthood in 1977, and he has served as a teacher, associate pastor and pastor in various parts of the 13-county diocese, prior to being named pastor at Sacred Heart Church in 2000.


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