Hafey Priest Suspended in Sex Case
Accusations against the Rev. Christopher R. Clay, Who Teaches Religion at a Local High School, Originate from an Investigation of Priests at the Society of St. John in Pike County.
By Bonnie Adams and Steve Mocarsky
Wilkes Barre Times Leader
May 3, 2002
A priest who served as chaplain and taught at Bishop Hafey High School has been relieved of his duties while police investigate allegations of sexual misconduct with a juvenile boy.
Principal Michael Reese said Thursday that the accusations against the Rev. Christopher R. Clay did not come from anyone in the Bishop Hafey school community.
A male's accusations against Clay surfaced during an investigation into two priests at the Society of St. John in Pike County, according to the Diocese of Scranton. Allegations of sexual misconduct within the conservative religious organization became public in January when Bishop James Timlin announced the priests had been relieved of their duties.
Diocese spokeswoman Maria Orzel said Thursday that an alleged victim in that case made the allegation against Clay.
"Father Clay denies the accusation," she said. "We received notification of this allegation from law enforcement."
The Lackawanna County District Attorney's Office is involved in the St. John investigation. First Assistant District Attorney Gene Talerico on Thursday referred questions about the Clay investigation to the Monroe County District Attorney's Office.
Monroe County District Attorney Mark Pazuhanich said the alleged misconduct happened two to three years ago in the Mount Pocono area. He said the alleged victim was a juvenile at the time, but he is now an adult.
Pazuhanich said the investigation is ongoing and no charges have been filed. He said the Pocono Mountain Regional Police Department is also investigating.
Reese said Bishop Hafey students are concerned about the situation.
He said the administration has not formally addressed the allegations with all students at the school in Hazle Township, but the school's Board of Pastors spoke about the issue Thursday with Clay's junior theology classes.
"We haven't had a schoolwide assembly or anything like that. But we gathered the teachers before school and we gave them instructions on how to deal with any questions or concerns," Reese said.
He said the Board of Pastors indicated a discussion or assembly for the entire school community might take place soon.
"Many students are fond of him and have had positive classroom experiences, so they're very concerned. But for the most part, the (school) community has been fine and talking and supporting each other," Reese said.
Reese said Clay taught five junior theology classes. Clay was teaching religion to all of this year's juniors and had taught the same course to this year's seniors last school year.
"His work has been very good. He's well-liked by many of the parents, many of the students, many of the faculty. It's definitely not a situation where I was unhappy with his work performance."
Orzel would not specify which law enforcement agency notified the Diocese of allegations against the 38-year-old priest. She said the Diocese followed its policy by immediately relieving Clay of his duties at Bishop Hafey in Hazle Township.
"He has been asked not to perform any public ministry," she said. That restriction will continue as the investigation proceeds.
Clay did not return a phone message left for him at St. Francis Church rectory in Nanticoke, where he is believed to reside.
Timlin ordained Clay at St. Peter's Cathedral in Scranton on June 27, 1998. He initially served at Notre Dame High School in East Stroudsburg from July 1998 until his transfer to Bishop Hafey in July 2000.
Notre Dame Principal Jeff Lyons referred questions on Thursday to the diocese.
After school on Thursday, some Bishop Hafey students didn't wish to comment, while others expressed surprise and concern about the accusations against Clay.
Another student said she will reserve judgment until the investigation is complete.
"Being that you don't know what happened yet, you don't know what to think," said senior Krysten Gasper, 18, of Hazleton.
Clay, formerly of Texas, previously lived at the Newman House, also known as the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, in Mount Pocono, Monroe County. Orzel said the priest lived there with a small group of priests and brothers while serving at Notre Dame High School and during part of his time at Bishop Hafey.
The Pocono Record previously reported that the oratory was established in 1996 as a community of secular priests. Orzel could not determine Thursday whether the oratory is still in existence, but she said the Vatican had not approved the oratory.
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