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  Priest Resigns, Admits Abuse
Members of the Parishes in Stanton and Edmore Are Stunned by Their Pastor's Admission to an Incident 25 Years Ago

Grand Rapid Press
April 22, 2002

EDMORE -- Parishioners at two Montcalm County Catholic churches are reeling after their well-liked priest resigned over the weekend after admitting to sexually abusing a young male about 25 years ago in another state.

The Rev. Vincent Bryce told members of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque Catholic Church in Edmore and St. Bernadette of Lourdes in Stanton he is leaving the rural parishes he has served since 1995.

Bryce's forced departure comes after the Diocese of Grand Rapids learned late last week the 72-year-old priest recently was accused of sexually abusing a minor in another diocese and admitted to the allegation.

Bishop Robert Rose said Sunday the diocese learned of the matter from the Chicago office of the Dominican Fathers, an international order to which Bryce belongs. Dominican leadership had no prior knowledge of the alleged abuse, Rose said.

Members of St. Bernadette's said the accusation did not fit the priest they came to know.

"The man has been so gentle since he got here," said Chuck Cilibraise, of Stanton, a longtime member and former parish council president at St. Bernadette's. "If you met him, you would find it hard to believe he is capable of that sort of thing."

Cilibraise's reaction was typical of people at both churches, said the Rev. Thomas Page, assistant vicar for priests in the Grand Rapids diocese. Page met with the congregations Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning following Masses led by Bryce.

"There was kind of a disconnect there: 'Are we talking about the same guy?'" Page said. "I saw some tears in the crowd.

"He's just a kind old priest."

The revelation came as the Diocese of Grand Rapids feels the ripples of a national sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church that has reached crisis proportions.

The diocese recently acknowledged it had paid a $500,000 settlement in 1994 to three women who said they were abused by the late Rev. John Thomas Sullivan, who served three diocesan parishes from 1958 to 1960. The diocese investigated the charges and said they were valid. Since that report, three other women have come forward claiming they also were abused by Sullivan.

Page said Sunday he is not aware of any other recent allegations against priests in the diocese besides Sullivan and Bryce.

Bryce was directed by superiors in the Dominican order to resign and return to regional headquarters in Chicago. Grand Rapids is one of several Midwest dioceses he served for the Dominicans. Ordained in 1957, he came to Grand Rapids from St. Gertrude parish in St. Clair Shores.

"Over the years, he has been a very fine pastor," said the Rev. David Wright, vicar provincial for the Dominicans' Chicago office. "This came as a total surprise to anyone here."

Wright said the Dominicans were notified last week by an attorney that a client made accusations against Bryce. Wright said the abuse occurred somewhere in the Midwest, but would not specify where, or where the accuser lives now.

Bryce admitted to the charge when confronted with it, Wright said. The Dominicans then contacted the Grand Rapids diocese, which accepted the order's request that Bryce resign.

Wright said the Dominicans are trying to talk with Bryce's accuser. It is the first sexual-abuse allegation made against Bryce, he said.

Before Bryce was assigned here in 1995, officials in the 11-county Diocese of Grand Rapids checked his records and "were assured in writing that his record was clear," Bishop Rose said in a prepared statement. Rose could not be reached for additional comment.

The Rev. William Zink, pastor of St. Michael parish in Remus, will serve as temporary administrator at the two churches. Visiting priests will fill in each week until a permanent pastor is named. St. Bernadette's has about 180 families; St. Margaret Mary has about 82.

At each church this weekend, Bryce briefly discussed his departure, and Page read a statement from Rose praising Bryce's "seven years of loving and dedicated service."

Rose's statement also asked for prayers for Bryce's "victim of many years ago." He said Bryce was "sincerely repentant for what he did over a quarter a century ago."

Bryce did not specify sexual abuse when addressing the congregation, said Cilibraise, the St. Bernadette parishioner. Cilibraise said Bryce did not admit to any charges but said he had to go to Chicago to answer them. Attempts to reach Bryce on Sunday were unsuccessful.

Tim Gurecki, a St. Bernadette custodian who learned of the accusation later in the day, also was stunned.

"This doesn't sound like the father I know," said Gurecki, adding he will wait for the investigation's outcome. "No one's a saint, so I'm not going to crucify the guy."

His wife, Cathy Gurecki, however, said simply resigning is not enough if the charges are true.

"This is a horrible crime," she said. "Whatever they do to him can't be enough."

 
 

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