Our View: Bishop Does Right with His Reversal
September 20, 2012
After a disturbing decision to return a priest accused of child sexual abuse to ministry, Joliet Diocese Bishop R. Daniel Conlon changed his mind this week and returned the priest to permanent leave.
It’s clearly the right move, but we’re left wondering why the Catholic Church made it necessary — the priest never should have been brought back.
Conlon last week assigned the Rev. F. Lee Ryan to a limited ministry for homebound parishioners in the Watseka area after the Vatican had ruled that Ryan did not violate church law, apparently because the alleged victim of abuse was not younger than 16 — the age of consent under church law.
Ryan was removed as an active priest in May 2010 by Conlon’s predecessor after a diocesan review panel found credible evidence that he had a sexual relationship in the 1970s with a student at Providence Catholic High School in New Lenox.
The victim, now a 52-year-old Florida resident, says he was 14 when he was sexually abused by Ryan over the course of a year.
That raises the question of why the Vatican issued its ruling. Did it have reason to believe the victim was at least 16 or was there some miscommunication between the diocese and Rome? Or does the Vatican not see enough evidence that Ryan abused the teen?
Conlon’s decision to reinstate Ryan, 79, caused an uproar. It drew criticism from both Ryan’s supporters downstate and those who strongly believe the Catholic Church has been much too lenient and careless in responding to the priest sex abuse scandal.
But the Vatican’s directive placed Conlon in a difficult position, especially in light of his being chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People.
Conlon said he had “subsequent discussions” (presumably including someone in Rome) after returning Ryan to ministry and decided the move did not “fulfill the larger need of the church to confront the scandal of child abuse in its midst and diligently restore trust.”