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  Priest Accused of Impropriety Monsignor Lang Removed from Duties Pending Outcome of Lawsuit

By Robin Abcarian
Mobile Register
March 7, 1995

A Mobile Catholic priest known for overcoming barriers of race and disability has been removed from his parish duties pending the outcome of a lawsuit alleging he had improper physical contact with a student. The lawsuit maintains that Monsignor Cordell Lang engaged in the contact five years ago while he was a counselor at McGill-Toolen High School, according to a statement by Archbishop Oscar H. Lipscomb of Mobile.

Lipscomb said his instruction that Lang discontinue priestly duties as an associate pastor to St. Mary's Parish followed a policy recommended by the National Council of Catholic Bishops.

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His statement noted Lang's "15-year record of unblemished service, often given at great personal sacrifice as a consequence of his physical disability."

Lang, 49, has battled throughout his priesthood with multiple sclerosis, a degenerative disease of the central nervous system. He was the first black native Mobilian to enter the priesthood in the city when he was ordained in 1979.

A copy of the lawsuit was not available Monday night. Lipscomb's statement did not say where or when the lawsuit was filed, nor did he elaborate on the allegation of "improper physical contact."

An accompanying letter from an attorney for the diocese said that a "former student" at McGill-Toolen filed the lawsuit. The person was not named.

Lipscomb said Lang had suffered as an adult from a "worsening condition of multiple sclerosis and as a result relinquished his responsibilities at the school at the end of the last academic year."

This is the second lawsuit against the Mobile archdiocese since last September alleging improper physical conduct by a priest. In the earlier lawsuit, which is pending in Dallas County, Steve Travis of Selma charges that the Rev. Nelson Ziter "sexually seduced, molested, beat and sodomized" him from 1974 to 1979 while he was pastor of a Selma church.

Lang could not be reached Monday night. The Rev. Kenneth Klepac, pastor at St. Mary's, said Lang is not an active minister there and has been living with his parents for at least a year because of his multiple sclerosis.

The Rev. Alex Sherlock, pastor at St. Pius X Church, said Lang "certainly enjoys a good reputation among the clergy in terms of his character."

"He is well-liked," Sherlock said. "He has never been a source of any controversy that I am aware of. "I'm shocked; I'd collapse if it were true. Right off the top, it's difficult for me to believe that he would be involved with any sort of impropriety."

Lipscomb in his statement said, "Nothing is more tragic to an individual or an institution that a charge of this nature, and this priest has been made aware of the gravity of the allegation."

Lipscomb said that his response to the lawsuit "might seem unfair" in view of Lang's record of service but "it is nevertheless appropriate in keeping with the church's concern and care for those it serves."

A 1979 newspaper story about Lang published shortly after his ordination quoted him as saying, "I know that as a priest my ministry is going to be a mixture of pain and joy. I feel that I can make the best of this mixture because I have experienced it in my own life. Pain and struggle and hope equal faith."

The story said Lang attended Most Pure Heart of Mary Catholic School in Mobile and went on to Epiphany Catholic High School in Newburgh, N.Y., to earn his diploma.

The story said Lang longed to be a priest since he was 15 but was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis while in seminary at St. Benedict, La.

Believing that the illness would block him from becoming a priest, he went on to earn a master's degree in counseling and guidance at the University of South Alabama in 1971. After struggling to regain the ability to walk, he again considered the priesthood and received encouragement to resume theological studies, the story said.

With a degree from Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, he was ordained and celebrated his first Mass in May 1979 in Mobile at Prince of Peace Catholic Church.

 
 

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