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  Accused Priest Takes Leave to Aid Defense

By Lynne Jensen
The Times-Picayune [New Orleans, LA]
January 1, 1993

The Rev. Bernard Schmaltz, accused this week of molesting a schoolboy 19 years ago, said Thursday he will take a leave of absence from his Gentilly parish, even though parishioners there said Wednesday they support him.

In addition, the archdiocese said Thursday it has begun an internal investigation, but supports Schmaltz and accepts his claim of innocence.

Monday, a 32-year-old man identifying himself to the court as J.A.G. filed a civil lawsuit claiming Schmaltz, 45, sexually molested him while he was an eighth-grade student at St. Clement of Rome school in Metairie during the 1973-74 school year.

The man said he had not acted earlier because he had repressed the most vivid memories of the molestations, which include rape. He said the memories surfaced recently after years of psychotherapy and after witnessing news reports on similar molestation cases.

Schmaltz reiterated his innocence Thursday in a letter to his parishioners at St. Gabriel the Archangel, thanking them for their support.

Leaders of St. Gabriel's parish council met Wednesday and decided to stand behind Schmaltz.

He said the leave of absence will give him time to prepare his defense, and that he will return.

"In consultation with archdiocesan authorities, I have decided to take a leave as your pastor in order to devote myself to the resolution of this legal ordeal," Schmaltz said in his letter. "I will retain my position as pastor, and expect to return to my parish work when this matter is concluded."

Meanwhile, Archbishop Francis Schulte, who is out of town, released a statement Thursday that said he accepts Schmaltz's claim of innocence and will support the priest "during this time of challenge."

Schmaltz requested the administrative leave "to allow him time to clear his name," Schulte said, and the archdiocese will launch its own investigation.

"During this time, as matter of standard procedure in such a case, there will be both an investigation and personal evaluation of Father Schmaltz," Schulte said. "I emphasize that this action does not imply any guilt or wrongdoing."

Monsignor Thomas Rodi, executive director of pastoral services for the archdiocese, said the archdiocese, which was named in the suit, and Schmaltz, who has hired his own attorney, are hampered in preparing their defense because the accuser is anonymous.

"We're trying to investigate, but it's difficult when the accuser will not contact us," Rodi said. "It would be good to know the details of the accuser."

Rodi said Schmaltz's leave begins Monday, and, although he will keep the title of pastor of St. Gabriel's, another priest will be assigned to administer the daily business of the parish.

Schmaltz's attorney, Vincent LoCoco, said it's not clear yet where Schmaltz will live.

He said he has advised Schmaltz not to make public statements, and said the leave request "has no bearing on the merits of the lawsuit."

"It's what we think has to be done," LoCoco said. "We're going to concentrate on this lawsuit, and he cannot continue to give his life totally to his parish while de does this.

"If anyone wants to really know about Father Schmaltz they can listen to the expressions of support from the people of St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish and see the love and affection shown to them," LoCoco said.

 
 

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