Priest Removed from Parish Duties Amidst Allegations of Sexual Abuse
By Theodore Decker
July 18, 2013
A local Roman Catholic priest who was placed on administrative leave this week as part of a child-sex-abuse investigation was caught up in a 1999 public-indecency sting conducted by police at a Far East Side park.
The Rev. Ronald J. Atwood, 69, the pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Church on Buttles Avenue in Victorian Village, will remain on leave during an investigation by the Diocese of Columbus, the diocese said in a news release issued yesterday.
Bishop Frederick Campbell notified Atwood on Tuesday of the allegation and the church’s decision to put him on leave, the release said.
The diocese said the allegation involves the sexual abuse of a child that reportedly occurred between 1976 and 1979, a period that included Atwood’s time as a teacher at Bishop Ready High School and as an associate pastor of two Franklin County parishes: St. Stephen the Martyr on the West Side and St. Peter on the Northwest Side.
The accusation was reported to the diocese on Monday. The diocese said it alerted Franklin County Children Services.
Bruce Cadwallader, spokesman for Children Services, said the agency could not immediately comment on the case, including what role it might play, considering the abuse is alleged to have occurred more than 30 years ago.
Atwood, a priest in the Columbus diocese since 1969, has not been charged with a crime. Sgt. Rich Weiner, a Columbus Police Division spokesman, could not be reached for comment.
Priests on administrative leave cannot publicly celebrate sacraments, wear clerical attire, live in any parish building or on diocesan property, or identify themselves as clergy members.
Atwood was a pastor at St. Thomas the Apostle on the East Side when he was charged in an undercover Columbus police sting in Helsel Park on S. Hamilton Road.
In the fall of 1999, police charged 43 men with public indecency after responding to complaints of persistent sexual activity among men in a park that remains notorious for such encounters. Some were accused of having sex while others, including Atwood, were charged with exposing themselves.
Atwood was charged with public indecency but pleaded no contest to a charge of public urination. He was fined $150 and ordered to stay out of the park.
After the plea, a diocesan spokesman told The Dispatch that the diocese had no plans to reassign Atwood or change his status. George Jones, the current spokesman for the diocese, did not return messages left by phone and email seeking comment on the church’s handling of the 1999 incident.
Anyone who might have experienced sexual abuse by clergy or others associated with the church can contact the diocesan victims-assistance coordinator at 614-224-2251 or 1-866-448-0217, or at email@example.com.