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  Accused Priest Relieved of Duties; Allamakee County: the Rev. Allen Schmitt Is Accused of Sex Abuse in Cedar Rapids More Than 20 Years Ago

By Mary Nevans Pederson
Telegraph Herald [Dubuque IA]
April 30, 2002

Archbishop Jerome Hanus said Mass in two Allamakee County Catholic churches Sunday to tell the parishioners himself that their priest had been relieved of his duties because of sexual abuse of a minor more than 20 years earlier.

The Rev. Allen Schmitt, 56, was pastor at St. Patrick in Waukon, St. Mary in Dorchester and St. Mary in Hanover. He had served those parishes for less than two years. But he is no longer allowed to function as a priest or to represent himself as a priest, according to Monsignor James Barta, vicar general for the Archdiocese of Dubuque.

During the week of March 24, a man who lives out of state alleged in an e-mail to the archdiocese that he was sexually abused by Schmitt in 1978, according to Barta. At that time, the priest was associate pastor at St. Patrick Parish in Cedar Rapids and the man was a teenager. After his assignment in Cedar Rapids, Schmitt served parishes in Marshalltown and Protivin before going to Waukon.

Schmitt admitted to the behavior when the archbishop confronted him, according to Barta. He was immediately removed from all responsibilities at the three churches, though there have been no allegations from his ministry there.

On Thursday, the archdiocese received a second accusation of abuse by Schmitt. A church official from outside of Iowa received a call from a man who said Schmitt abused his brother in 1974. Archdiocesan officials are attempting to locate that man.

"Father Schmitt has been suspended. His profession has been taken away from him," Barta said.

The archdiocese has offered its help to the identified victim.

"We acknowledge their hurt first. We are finding out his needs and how we can help," Barta said.

Hanus appeared at all three Sunday Masses at St. Patrick in Waukon and one Mass at St. Mary in Dorchester. He announced Schmitt's removal before he celebrated each Mass. He later stood at the church door to greet parishioners and spent time in the church's fellowship hall to meet any church members who wanted to talk to him. Sister Liana Glynn, OP, chancellor of the archdiocese, accompanied him.

"I am very pleased the archbishop came to tell us the news himself and with how the archdiocese handled this as quickly as possible," said Michael Ward, principal at St. Patrick Catholic School in Waukon. The school has 138 students in grades kindergarten through eight.

"There are a lot of people in the parish who were shocked and saddened and many who are angry," said Ward, who contacted those faculty members who did not attend Mass Sunday and told them about Schmitt's dismissal.

Besides being the church's pastor, Schmitt also was the spiritual adviser for the school and was on the board of education.

"The school administration is very upset that such incidents happened in the past with Father Schmitt in a position of power. It's going to take some time to heal," Ward said. He gathered the school faculty together before school Monday to discuss how the information was going to be presented to the students.

Students and parishioners held a joint prayer service Monday morning.

"The theme was to help the students remember that we are all human and all make mistakes, and they can turn to their faith and prayer in times of crisis," Ward said.

Back in the classrooms, teachers allowed their students to talk about their feelings. Ward and the school counselor visited every classroom to answer questions. The school sent a letter home to every family, explaining the situation and urging them to discuss it as a family.

"We will get through this and the Catholic Church will get through this whole ordeal. The church has survived other crises. This all had to come out," Ward said.

Barta said this is the first such case in the archdiocese since 1996, when the Rev. Tim DeVenney, a priest at St. Columbkille Parish in Dubuque, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for fondling several boys. DeVenney is now out on parole and is living in a halfway house.

In 1999, the Rev. Michael Fitzgerald, pastor at St. Joseph Parish in Marion, was accused of taking part in an inappropriate chat on the Internet with an undercover investigator he thought was a 13-year-old boy. No criminal charges ever were filed, but Fitzgerald was relieved of his duties. He died in a car crash last year.

In 1993, the archdiocese instituted a sexual misconduct policy that states in part, "Sexual misconduct is not to be tolerated and is grounds for immediate termination of employment."

All employees of the archdiocese, including priests and nuns, must sign a form stating they have read the policy.

Archbishop's comments

Excerpts from Dubuque Archbishop Jerome Hanus' statement Sunday to Catholic parishes in Waukon and Dorchester: "All are aware of the abuse scandals which have been in the news the last months. Those news reports have reminded people who were abused in the past of their suffering. Some of them are now gaining the courage to report what happened to them. ...

"I apologize to this victim and his family for this appalling sin and crime against a minor. ...

"I want to make it clear that any abuse of minors, most especially by a priest, is both a crime and a terrible sin. If anyone feels that he or she has been a victim or if anyone thinks that someone else has been a victim, I invite you to come forth. We want to help you. We also want to make sure that no one else is placed in danger. ...

"I ask your prayers for victims and their families, for the church, for the parishes and for Father Schmitt. May Jesus, the good shepherd, watch over and protect all of us."

 
 

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