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Ex-Priest Fired As Rehab Chaplain

By Rhett Morgan
Tulsa World
April 30, 2002

Cushing - A former Catholic priest working as a chaplain at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center was fired recently after officials learned he was a convicted sex offender.

Bill Groves, 50, of Cushing, was let go from the Valley Hope Association about two weeks ago for an "inconsistency" with his application, he said. Groves had worked there nine years, six as a drug and alcohol counselor and the past three as a chaplain, he said.

"Essentially what they were saying is I had not informed them of a felony conviction when I applied," Groves said.

Groves was working as a priest at the St. Ignatius Church in 1989 when he was charged with molesting a 14-year-old boy in Ignacio, a small town in southwestern Colorado.

Removed as pastor, Groves was convicted the following year of sexual assault on a child, was given four years of probation and ordered to undergo sex offender treatment, a prosecutor told the Denver Post.

The newspaper detailed Groves' troubled past in a Monday story.

Upon applying at Valley Hope, Groves spent two hours discussing his conviction with facility officials, he said.

Groves said he was told by Valley Hope personnel that the facility had a number of people on staff with felony convictions and that would not be a problem.

"I'd been doing wonderfully with excellent evaluations for nine years," he said. But times change. It's not good for them now."

Groves' firing comes in the wake of a sex abuse crisis that has rocked the Roman Catholic Church. Revelations around the U.S. have resulted in the resignation or removal of scores of priests from active ministry, and an Irish bishop resigned over his handling of sex abuse allegations.

John Liebold is vice president of Valley Hope, which has treatment centers in seven states and is headquartered in Norton, Kan.

The facility primarily treats adults whose average age is about 35, though it does administer to people as young as 18 in rare cases, he said.

"When we found out about the legal problems, we checked what he said on his employment application and it wasn't factual," Liebold said of Groves' termination.

Liebold disputes Groves' claim that he told Valley Hope officials of his assault conviction.

Liebold said he is also unaware of any other staffers who were felons at the time of Groves' hire, as Groves suggested.

"In our business, felony convictions aren't unusual," Liebold said. "It's a question of what those felony convictions are and how they relate to that particular job that people are performing and whether they are up front about them when they are hired."

Background checks at Valley Hope are more thorough than they were 10 years ago, Liebold said. The treatment center is considering making criminal background checks a part of organizational policy, he said.

Groves said he used his criminal past to relate to patients "therapeutically" in lectures, small groups and individual sessions at Valley Hope.

"It was actually a very useful tool in helping so many addicts that were going through there," he said.

Groves was abusing alcohol and smoking marijuana at the time of his sex abuse accusation. The boy reportedly was lonely and came to the rectory for companionship.

Groves was told he tried to commit suicide at the St. Ignatius Catholic Church, though he said he has no recollection of it.

He has no plans on ministering again as a priest. Groves, however, worries about how publicity about his past will affect his ability to find a job.

"I'm tired of lies and people running," he said. "I figure it may be the stupidest thing I ever did, to talk to somebody and say this is the truth. But I did it."

Rhett Morgan, World staff writer, can be reached at 581-8395 or via e-mail at rhett.morgan@tulsaworld.com.

 
 

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