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  Problem Priests Still on Job
None in Columbus Parishes after Treatment, Bishop Says

By Dennis M. Mahoney
Columbus Dispatch (Ohio)
April 27, 2002

Priests who have undergone psychological treatment for sexual misconduct are working in the Columbus Roman Catholic Diocese, but none is in a parish, Bishop James A. Griffin said yesterday.

Griffin refused to say how many are serving in the 234,000-member diocese or to identify them, "out of respect for their own confidentiality . . . and their own personal integrity."

The men have been accused of sexual misdeeds and undergone therapy as a result, he said.

As far as he knows, the bishop said, "There's absolutely no priest in any parochial assignment that's had this problem."

Griffin offered the assurance one day after he announced that he had removed a priest as pastor of a West Side church because the priest had had a sexual relationship with an adolescent boy from 1976 to '79.

Griffin's interview with The Dispatch yesterday was his first since the sex-abuse scandal involving Roman Catholic priests broke nationwide three months ago.

The bishop would not disclose the names of priests -- or the number of names -- turned over to the Franklin County prosecutor last month for possible investigation of sexual misconduct.

Pressed for a reason, he said: "Because I choose not to."

Prosecutor Ron O'Brien said in a statement yesterday that, after reviewing information provided by the diocese and reports made to his office by the public, he doesn't expect to seek indictments of any past or present diocesan priests.

O'Brien's statement said that no civil claims or criminal allegations have been brought against priests during the past 10 years. Generally, the statement said, the statute of limitations would prevent charges in incidents occurring before 1993.

The diocese has about 175 priests. Any information on priests accused of sexual misconduct, Griffin said, is kept in "secret archive files."

The secret files, which are separate from standard personnel files, contain information "that the church says should be carefully guarded," he said. "Any activity on the part of a priest that would be sinful is recorded in the secret archives."

Daniel Volkema, a Columbus lawyer who represented victims of sexual abuse by the Rev. Michael Hanrahan in a civil suit in the early 1990s, has said that the diocese quickly settled his clients' case after the judge ordered that Hanrahan's secret file be turned over.

But Griffin said he knew of no case settled "simply because somebody asked for the secret archive." He said information given to O'Brien included material from the secret files.

Referring to his announcement Thursday that Monsignor Joseph N. Fete had been removed as pastor of St. Margaret of Cortona Church on the West Side, Griffin said he did take action in 1999 when he first learned of Fete's sexual misconduct.

Fete, 54, has admitted to sexual contact with the adolescent when he was an associate pastor at St. Joseph Cathedral, which is Downtown. The bishop learned of the matter in 1999, when the diocese settled with the victim after he threatened a lawsuit.

Griffin said that in '99, he removed Fete from St. Joseph, where he was rector, and sent him to a treatment center. He would not say where.

After the treatment, Fete's therapist said the priest was not a threat to anyone, the bishop said.

"That, plus his 20-plus years of outstanding service since this incident occurred, convinced me he could be reassigned," Griffin said.

After Fete returned from several months of study in the Mideast last year, he was assigned as pastor at St. Margaret.

Since then, Griffin said, Fete had told him that he "found it increasingly difficult to minister with this incident hanging over his head."

The bishop said his decision to move Fete to the newly created Office of Ecumenical and Interfaith Affairs, which serves as a liaison to other denominations and faiths, "was influenced by what happened in Boston and other dioceses where people said priests are just transferred and moved on. We didn't want to even give the suspicion that we were doing that."

Paul D. Ritter, diocesan attorney, said Thursday that the diocese was not required to report Fete's misconduct to authorities because the victim was an adult in 1999.

Griffin, reminded yesterday that he'd previously said that the diocese had reported past allegations of misconduct to authorities, said: "We always reported when there was a duty to report it."

The bishop would not say how much the diocese has paid to settle cases involving sexual misconduct by priests, citing confidentiality agreements, which are common in such cases.

Reacting to criticism that he has not spoken enough publicly about the priest scandal, Griffin said he frequently officiates at Masses in diocesan parishes and that he is willing to answer questions from parishioners.

He has referred to the scandal in sermons, he said, but not devoted an entire sermon to the subject.

"I feel we've handled this well."

Griffin said the results of this week's meeting of U.S. cardinals with the pope and Vatican officials to discuss the scandal were "very good, very positive."

"I hope it demonstrates to people something they should already know: The church protects children. That's what we're in business for . . .

"And that 99 percent of our priests live good, holy, hard-working, honest lives."

 
 

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