Bishop Confronts Angry, Confused Parish in Fishers over Decades-Old Sex-Abuse Allegations
By Dan McFeely
March 4, 2013
|Bishop Timothy Doherty of the Diocese of Lafayette visited with members of St. Louis de Monfort Catholic Church to discuss an anonymous letter regarding the pastor. |
When Bishop Timothy Doherty stood before 300-plus parishioners Sunday morning to defend their pastor from 40-year-old sexual abuse allegations, he was also sending a message that the old ways of covering up such scandals are over.
During an often tense, hour-long meeting at St. Louis de Montfort Catholic Church, the leader of the Lafayette Diocese said this was “an old accusation” against an innocent pastor who is suffering from having to reopen old wounds.
Rather than handling the matter quietly, Doherty applauded the parish for asking him to come to Fishers, saying it is important to treat such allegations with swift action and in a transparent manner, something he admitted did not happen decades ago as the church scandal began to unfold across America.
“The tragedy is in some places it wasn’t taken seriously enough,” Doherty said. “If I didn’t show up today, people would say the bishop is hiding.
“We are doing a lot now (to follow tougher procedures) . . . much more than what we were doing as a church more than 10 years ago.”
As proof, Doherty revealed that just last year, he removed one diocesan priest while clearing three others from allegations deemed to be false.
“If a credible allegation is made about a priest, no matter when it occurred, he cannot be in service,” Doherty said. “We are in a one-strike and you’re out situation.”
Doherty gave no more details and was not available for comment afterward.
Many parishioners at St. Louis de Montfort, which has about 1,200 families, came to Sunday’s meeting seeking assurance that their pastor, the Rev. Patrick R. Click, was innocent of the allegations concerning abuse reported at a New Orleans youth home in the late 1960s.
At the time, Click was a seminarian studying to be a priest and working summers at that youth home. The allegations were brought up two weeks ago when someone — many think a disgruntled parishioner with an ax to grind — sent a threatening letter to make the matter a public scandal unless Click was removed from the parish.
The parish responded by making it public first, sending letters to parishioners and arranging Sunday’s gathering. The Indianapolis Star first reported about the incident Friday.
Doherty told the crowd that false allegations against a good priest can be very damaging, not just to the priest, but to a parish that needs to have faith in its leader.
The anonymous letter, he said, poses an impossible scenario, trying to force a priest to defend himself against accusations that are 40-plus years old, with no witnesses and no documents to support the allegations.
One parishioner noted that Father Pat, as he is known in the parish, has been mentioned in some online blogs posted by victims of abuse. But another cautioned the crowd not to believe everything you read on a blog.
A 2002 diocesan investigation was carried out when the matter first came to the attention of church officials here. That investigation included a panel of both Catholics and non-Catholics, law enforcement officials and others and found the allegations to be “unsupported by the facts and without merit.”
But that didn’t stop parishioners on Sunday from expressing fear that despite the church investigation, some will believe him to be guilty. And they also fear that he could become a target for retribution, leading to a demand for tighter security for the K-8 school on the church campus.
Shelly Thieme, a mother of three, has been in the parish for 13 years and is a supporter of Click. But in an interview after the meeting, she said she understood the fears regarding whoever is accusing the pastor.
“Not the accuser from 40 years ago, but the accuser from two weeks ago who sent the threatening letter,” Thieme said. “And my sense is that people have a heightened sensitivity to any kind of threat.”
Doherty assured the crowd that there was nothing in the letter suggesting that the children of the parish should be afraid. He urged them to remain calm.
A situation like this, he said, “scares up demons in everybody.”
“It is fear that chases away our faith,” said Doherty. “I won’t say don’t be afraid; but I will ask, who are we giving power to if we are afraid?”
Click, who has been at the parish since 2005, sat in the back of the gym and listened, but did not speak. Many of those present spoke highly of him and the crowd applauded several times to punctuate a supportive comment.
“My sense was that the vast majority were supportive of Father Pat,” said Thieme. “I think he has served our parish in an honorable way. He has been present for the Sacraments for my children and I think has done a terrific job.”