Priest Accused of Abusing Teen to Have Restricted Ministry

By Ann Rodgers
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
February 18, 2010

The Rev. Alvin Adams, who has been on leave from his parish and his chaplaincy at Bishop Canevin High School for nearly a year while the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh investigated reports that he had sexually abused three young people, has been permanently restricted to a supervised ministry as chaplain to a convent of sisters.

"This decision has been difficult for me to make and perhaps difficult for you to accept. Yet it is necessary," Bishop David Zubik wrote in nearly identical letters to parishioners at Ascension Parish in Ingram, staff and students at Canevin and to other priests.

The bishop had met last month with the 50-year-old woman whose complaint led to the restrictions, and explained what he was likely to do and why. In this case church law prohibited him from banning Father Adams from all ministry because the abuse began when she was 16 and church law at that time considered 16-year-olds adults. The only case against him was in church law, because the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution or a lawsuit had expired.

"I feel relieved and that some justice is being served here," the woman said. The Post-Gazette doesn't identify victims of sexual abuse. "I really hope that people will feel more free to come forward. This has not been an easy thing for me, but it's definitely given me closure on this issue and some hope. . . . I feel somewhat vindicated. It shows that the bishop did find me credible."

Under rules that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Vatican agreed on in 2002, priests who a church court determines to have sexually abused a minor are to be permanently removed from all ministry. However in canon law, as in civil law, cases are tried according to the law at the time of the offense. Her allegations are from the 1970s, nearly a decade before a new code of canon law raised the age of adulthood to 18.

"Rome would say that there was no crime at that time because a 16-year-old was considered an adult. In a prior case, not in this diocese, a priest had to be returned to some form of very restricted ministry," said the Rev. Ronald Lengwin, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Father Adams, 69, will start March 8 as chaplain to the Sisters of St. Francis of the Providence of God at their motherhouse in Whitehall. He has maintained that he was falsely accused.

Diocesan officials "have put public relations considerations ahead of justice," said Paul Titus, Father Adams' civil attorney. "We should expect better of our churches. Unfortunately, a good, decent and caring priest, who has been faithful to his calling and who has done much good for countless people, has been wrongfully treated in this matter."

The bishop's letter stated that Father Adams had resigned as pastor of Ascension. "While Father Adams is concerned that such a resignation may be interpreted as an admission of guilt, it must be clearly known that his rationale for resigning the pastorate is out of genuine concern for the faithful of Ascension Parish," the bishop wrote.

The Rev. Brian Welding, who has been administrator of Ascension while Father Adams was on leave, will become the pastor.

After a public announcement was made of the initial accusation in March, two other people came forward, including the woman on whom the decision was based. A diocesan review board found that the other two complaints weren't credible, Father Lengwin said.

The woman on whom the case rested said her greatest disappointment was that Father Adams wouldn't admit that he had repeatedly fondled her when she was a student at the former Mon Valley Catholic High School, where he was vice principal from 1975 to 1980."I don't think he's an evil man. I think he's a man who made a mistake. But it did happen," she said.


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