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  More Priest Suspensions Possible

By Jay Tokasz
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
April 11, 2002

More priests might be placed on administrative leave as the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester reviews its policy on priests accused of misconduct.

The Rev. Joseph Hart, diocesan vicar general, said Wednesday that the diocese would have to suspend any priest who committed a sexual transgression - even if the act was an isolated one years ago and the priest was not a danger to others.

"Anyone who has crossed any boundary must be excluded from any type of ministry. That seems the path that we'll have to take," Hart said Wednesday following the conclusion of the diocese's annual priest convocation. "If the people in the pews feel that that's the standard they would like us to uphold, we have to listen to that.

They have to feel safe."

Hart, who is second in command in the diocese, made his statements the day after the Rev. Joseph Brodnick, chaplain at an Elmira hospital, resigned amid allegations of sexual abuse from almost 30 years ago.

Officials from St. Joseph's Hospital, the Rochester diocese and the Diocese of Cleveland all knew about the sexual abuse claims.

Brodnick, a priest in the Cleveland diocese, was allowed to take the chaplain's post in Elmira in 1997 because two independent panels determined he presented no danger of sexual abuse. Brodnick was accused of sexually abusing a teenage girl while he was a young priest in Ohio.

Cleveland Bishop Anthony M. Pilla gave prosecutors in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, Brodnick's name after the district attorney issued a subpoena seeking records of child sexual abuse allegations in the Cleveland diocese. Pilla then placed Brodnick on administrative leave, meaning the chaplain had to resign from the hospital.

Fellow priests and hospital staffers were stunned and saddened by Brodnick's departure.

"He was an exemplary employee. Many staff members are devastated by this news," said Denis Sweeney, hospital spokesman. "Father Joe was like a member of the family."

Officials from the hospital and the Rochester diocese received no other reports of misconduct by Brodnick, who was described by colleagues as conscientious and dedicated.

Brodnick, a former chaplain in Ohio, ended up in Elmira after St. Joseph's Hospital conducted a search for a full-time chaplain. The Rochester diocese does not have enough priests to be able to provide a full-time chaplain at St. Joseph's, said Hart.

The Rev. Walter L. Wainwright, pastor of St. Anthony and St.

Patrick churches in Elmira, said civil authorities in Cleveland had gone too far in revealing accusations from more than two decades ago. "Locally, his reputation is ruined, and I think that's terribly unfair," he said. "It would seem to me more harm has been done."

The chaplain is not a sexual predator or a pedophile, said Wainwright. "This was a moral lapse that occurred 25 years ago when he was a much younger priest."

More than two dozen priests nationwide out of 47,000 have resigned since January, when a sexual abuse scandal in Boston brought the issue of priest misconduct to the forefront.

The Archdiocese of Boston shuttled one former priest, John J.

Geoghan, from parish to parish for several years, even though diocesan officials knew about his alleged rampant sexual abuse of minors since 1984.

In addition to Cleveland and Boston, dioceses in New York City, Brooklyn and Long Island have turned over or agreed to turn over to prosecutors the names of priests accused of sexual abuse. Bills currently in the New York Legislature would require that clergy report any suspected child abuse.

Hart said prosecutors in the 12-county Rochester diocese have not asked for names of accused priests, and the diocese has no plans to provide any. Monroe County District Attorney Howard Relin could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

But Hart also said the climate of scandal was forcing the diocese to consider different standards.

He called it "a possibility" that priests could be removed from ministry for isolated acts of misconduct two or three decades ago.

He also said priests who have "desk jobs" because they were removed from active ministry after allegations of sexual abuse may also be subject to further review.

The news of Brodnick's resignation came shortly after Rochester Bishop Matthew Clark celebrated a convocation liturgy, during which the diocese's priests rededicated themselves to the priesthood.

The Rev. Michael Schramel, pastor of St. Ambrose Church in Rochester, said he was trying not to let the "painful reality" of the scandal dominate his thoughts.

"It's certainly a different climate," he said, "but as somebody remarked (at the convocation), 'We can't choose our crosses.' "

 
 

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