Joliet Diocese Again Removes Priest from Public Ministry

By Bob Okon
Chicago Sun-Times
September 18, 2012

The Rev. Lee Ryan is shown in this file photo. Supplied

The bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Joliet said Tuesday he is reversing an earlier decision and putting a priest accused of abuse back on administrative leave “for the sake of the greater good of the Church.”

The Rev. F. Lee Ryan, 79, who has been accused of inappropriate relations with a minor four decades ago, was put back into limited ministry last week after a ruling from the Vatican based on church law.

But Bishop R. Daniel Conlon announced Tuesday that he has decided to put Ryan back on “full administrative leave.”

In a statement, Conlon said, “Last week I announced that Father F. Lee Ryan would be permitted to exercise a very narrow priestly ministry. Subsequent discussions that have occurred since that decision have highlighted that any action needs to fulfill the larger need of the Church to confront the scandal of child abuse in its midst and diligently restore trust.

“For the sake of the greater good of the Church, I have decided to revoke my earlier permission and once again place Fr. Ryan on full administrative leave.”

Conlon said he would “initiate further conversations with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,” the panel in Rome that found Ryan not guilty based on a church law in place at the time of the alleged abuse. That law refers to discipline against priests who engage in adultery or improper touching with people under the age of 16.

The accuser has said he was 14 at the time of the alleged incidents.

Ryan has denied the allegations.

“What is of paramount importance is to manifest the Catholic Church’s commitment to safeguard youth and vulnerable adults,” Conlon said in the statement.

Conlon heads a U.S. bishops’ Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People.

Removed in 2010

In 2010 when the accusations surfaced, Ryan was removed as pastor of St. Edmund’s Parish in Watseka and St. Joseph’s Mission in nearby Crescent City.

Last week, Conlon announced that Ryan was being returned to limited ministry in the Watseka area for home-bound parishioners because of the ruling from Rome finding him not guilty.

The decision has met with criticism both from supporters of the accuser and supporters of Ryan because it appeared to be based on church law without a finding of whether the accusations were considered credible.

Ryan has strong support in his Watseka parish, where some members have been working on his behalf to try to reinstate him.

One of those parishioners, Andy Guimond, put out a statement Tuesday calling Conlon’s latest decision to put Ryan back on leave “very frustrating.”

“It seems abundantly clear that his inability to make a permanent decision is based on more factors than just the truth — obviously his lack of evidence and most assuredly pressure from non-Catholic groups,” Guimond said.

Ryan’s attorney, Leonard Sacks of Kankakee, said that Ryan “hasn’t been treated fairly.”

Sacks said Ryan took a lie detector test in an attempt to show his innocence and the results were sent to the diocese.

Ryan “doesn’t deserve any of the press he’s been getting,” Sacks said. “The fact is the guy didn’t do anything. ... He should have been given a hearing of some sort with witnesses.”

Bishop criticized

Meanwhile, the bishop also has faced criticism from a victims’ advocacy group, Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests.

SNAP held a Joliet event last week to call attention to Ryan’s reinstatement and criticized the decision.

The group contends that Ryan could continue to pose a threat to minors when visiting home-bound parishioners and, in its own statement, called Conlon’s decision “part of a growing and disturbing pattern of bishops putting proven, admitted and credibly accused child molesting clerics back on the job.”

SNAP again criticized Conlon on Tuesday, calling his latest decision “damage control.”

Conlon and the diocese have not said whether there was any determination that the accusations against Ryan were true or false. But last week Conlon did say in an email response to questions from The Herald-News that the accusations against Ryan were sent to Rome for consideration after they were reviewed by the Diocesan Review Committee. The committee is a panel of citizens with professional backgrounds in law, police and social work.

“The role of the Review Committee,” Conlon wrote, “is to help the bishop determine if there is enough evidence that the alleged abuse may have occurred.”









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