Diocese seeks to defrock priest after sex-abuse allegations
By Joanne Viviano
March 30, 2016
|The Rev. Ron Atwood|
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus is seeking to defrock a priest in the wake of an allegation that he sexually abused a minor in the 1970s when he served at a Catholic high school and two churches.
The Rev. Ronald Atwood was placed on administrative leave by Bishop Frederick Campbell in July 2013, a day after the diocese received a complaint that he had abused someone while assigned to Bishop Ready High School on the West Side, St. Stephen the Martyr Church on the Southwest Side and St. Peter Church on the Northwest Side from 1976 to 1979.
About a week later, a diocesan board determined that the allegation appeared to be credible, the diocese said in a statement released on Tuesday. Following efforts to determine whether anyone else wanted to come forward, the diocese determined that Atwood should be defrocked.
Documentation seeking the defrocking has been sent to the Vatican and Atwood, who has been a priest in the diocese since 1969 and remains on leave.
The diocese released information about the defrocking efforts after Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian announced on Monday financial settlements he had reached for clients in 16 claims of clergy abuse across the country. Among them was a claim against Atwood in which a man said he was between 16 and 20 when the priest repeatedly sexually abused him from 1975 to 1980 in Atwood's office at Bishop Ready and during out-of-state trips.
Garabedian said the settlement reached with the Columbus diocese in February 2015 was "in the low five figures." He was unsure whether it was his client who had made the 2013 complaint to the Columbus diocese.
Former parishioners have said that Atwood, 72, has been seriously ill with cancer. A handful who contacted The Dispatch remembered him as an exceptional priest who delivered relatable sermons with wit and compassion, inspired them to integrate Christianity into their lives and welcomed gay people into his parishes.
He served at Columbus St. Aloysius Church (1969-1972); Bishop Ready (1969-1977); St. Stephen (1977-1978); St. Peter (1978-1982); Church of the Ascension in Johnstown (1982-1991); Columbus St. Thomas the Apostle Church (1991-2003); St. Joseph Cathedral in Columbus (2003-2004); and Columbus St. Francis of Assisi Church (2004-2013).
The diocese asks anyone who has been sexually abused by anyone associated with the Catholic Church to notify law-enforcement officials and to contact the diocesan victims' assistance coordinator at (614) 224-2251 or (866) 448-0217 or by email. Forms for reporting abuse are available in Catholic parish and school offices and at www.colsdioc.org.