|Priest Defends Himself
November 20, 2007
STEUBENVILLE — The Belmont County Catholic priest accused of sexually assaulting a minor 16 years ago said Monday he is innocent.
The Rev. Gary A Zalenski issued a statement late Monday through his attorney declaring weekend comments by Bishop R. Daniel Conlon of the Catholic Diocese of Steubenville as "damaging to my reputation and is not properly made in accordance with church policy."
According to a statement issued late Saturday from the diocesan communications office, Conlon announced he had withdrawn Zalenski from active ministry "as the result of a credible allegation of his having sexually assaulted a minor in 1991."
"The allegation was brought to the Diocese of Steubenville by a woman who was a young parishioner at SS Peter and Paul Parish in Lore City 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," Conlon declared in his statement. According to Zalenski's statement, "I have not yet been tried and convicted of anything either inside or outside of the church. Further, I maintain my complete innocence.
"I am therefore sorry that my bishop has publicly condemned me by labeling me as an offender," Zalenski added.
He said Conlon's press release "lacks objectivity to the extent that the public has not been educated and or informed that I have denied the allegations to the church and have refuted some of the evidence that the bishop was using against me in order to make a finding that the alleged victim's allegations are credible."
Zalenski said the matter was brought to his attention on Sept. 12.
"I was notified on Nov. 12 that the bishop would wish to meet (with me) on Nov. 15. At that time, he and his vicar general informed me that he finds the allegation to be credible, but refused to disclose to me the identity of those that he was relying upon in drawing his conclusion, thus hindering my response," Zalenski stated.
According to Conlon's statement," 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 and the Diocese of Steubenville's 'Decree on Child Protection'."
"Unfortunately, prior to the bishop taking action, he had not acted in full accord with said policies and has made statements that are not within the spirit of the policies," Zalenski said.
Zalenski was serving as pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Neffs.
Conlon appointed the Monsignor Gene W. Mullett as temporary administrator of that parish in addition to his duties as pastor of St. Michael and St. John parishes in Bellaire.
"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 the 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," Conlon declared.
Zalenski has moved out of the Sacred Heart rectory since the allegations were made public and he was removed from active ministry.
"To the extent that my bishop has taken it upon himself to make a statement that I am an offender, I obviously see the need to mitigate the damages to my reputation by releasing this statement," Zalenski concluded.
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