Bishop Steps down
Threatened Suit Not a Factor, Diocese Says
By Ralph Loos and Sean Dailey
State Journal-Register(Springfield, IL)
October 20, 1999
Saying he was tired of standing "where the buck stops," the Rev. Daniel Ryan stepped aside Tuesday as bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Springfield.
Ryan, 69, also announced his successor: Monsignor George Lucas, 50, current rector of Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis. Lucas will be ordained as the new bishop of Springfield in six to eight weeks.
Ryan's resignation, which apparently had been in the works for several weeks and took effect immediately, was announced at a morning press conference.
Ryan, who was appointed bishop of the Springfield Diocese on Nov. 22, 1983, denied that allegations of sexual and doctrinal misconduct directed at him in recent years had played a part in his resignation. However, two attorneys said Tuesday evening that they expect to file a sexual abuse lawsuit, possibly as early as next week, against Ryan, at least one unnamed priest and the Springfield Diocese.
The attorneys, Frederic Nessler of Springfield and Stephen Rubino of New Jersey, declined to discuss the substance of the case. They also would not say whether Ryan would be personally accused of abuse or if he would be named simply because of his administrative role in the diocese. Lucas, in Springfield Tuesday for the press conference, said he was excited that Pope John Paul II had chosen him to lead the 65,000 households of the 28-county diocese.
"I just found out in the last several days," said Lucas, a native of St. Louis. "I'm excited, but I know there's work to be done. Bishop Ryan's welcome to me has been warm and enthusiastic."
Until Lucas can be installed, a diocesan administrator will be named to oversee day-to-day operations.
Several confirmations -- a sacrament that must be performed by a bishop -- are scheduled in the next few weeks. Ryan may handle those ceremonies. However, that will be up to the new administrator, who is expected to be named Friday.
Ryan said he would like to remain in the diocese and continue his religious work in some capacity.
"But that decision is up to Bishop-elect Lucas," said Ryan. "I have felt for some little time that I should step aside and have an opportunity for a type of service to our Lord's people other than that of being 'where the buck stops'."
Ryan said declining numbers of priests and other clergy plague the Springfield Diocese, as they do many others.
"It isn't a problem that's unique to our diocese; we need more workers," he said. "And that's going to be the challenge to Monsignor Lucas." Several Springfield-area Catholics interviewed Tuesday said the resignation did not come as a big surprise.
" He's looked tired the last couple of times I've seen him," said Jeanne Andrews, eating lunch at a downtown deli. "We'll miss him, but maybe it's time for some new blood."
Ryan seemed to agree.
"I'd like to have some energy left to serve as the Lord wants me to serve," he said.
While bishop, Ryan underwent treatment for alcoholism and has battled other health problems. In addition, he has faced persistent opposition from an apparently small group of dissident "orthodox" Catholics, who, among other protests, periodically picket the bishop's appearances.
"Not at all," Ryan replied when asked if his decision was inspired by the criticism.
"I expected to be asked about picketers and whether they had anything to do with this decision, and I have an analogy," he said. "I read the newspaper every morning, and this morning I noticed a column that said the sun rose in our city at 7:13 a.m.
"It would not surprise me if certain groups aren't claiming responsibility for the sun rising in our city."
Steve Brady of Petersburg, Ryan's most outspoken opponent, said he was delighted with Ryan's decision.
"It caught me by surprise, actually," said Brady. "I like to think we played a major part in this. We wish Bishop Ryan well."
Nessler, who denied "formal ties" with Brady or his Petersburg-based group, Roman Catholic Faithful, said the suit will revolve around alleged sexual and psychological abuse. Rubino said it involves "early childhood sexual abuse."
The suit will name Ryan, the Springfield Diocese and at least one former diocesan priest as defendants, Nessler said. A priest may also be a plaintiff or witness as well as a defendant, he said. Nessler and Rubino declined to name anyone besides Ryan or go into the specifics of the suit.
"I think the suit will be self-explanatory when it's filed," Nessler said. "It will be an extensive pleading, and to say much more than that before it's filed will not serve anyone's purposes."
But Nessler did stress: "It would be unfair to Ryan to say he will be the only one named in the suit. There will be other defendants besides him." Diocesan spokeswoman Kathie Sass said Nessler's threatened suit had no bearing on Ryan's announcement.
"We don't even dignify it with a comment," she said. "We have no idea what Nessler is up to, except for things he's said in the past that didn't bear out either."
Previously, Nessler represented a group of former altar boys in a suit against Monsignor Norman Goodman, a former Catholic pastor in Lincoln. The Diocese of Peoria settled part of that case out of court for an undisclosed amount of money, but the portions of the suit filed personally against Goodman were either dismissed or withdrawn. Goodman claimed exoneration.
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