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  Ex-Priest Not on Sex Offender List
He Says He Did Not Know That He Had to Register

By Matt Stearns
Kansas City Star (Kansas & Missouri)
May 4, 2002

A former Roman Catholic priest who went to prison in Kansas for molesting a teen-age boy is now a Protestant minister in Rapid City, S.D., and is not registered as a sex offender there, as required by law.

The Rev. James A. Forsythe, 47, admitted molesting a 15-year-old boy about 20 times in the late 1980s while a pastor at Holy Cross Catholic Church in Overland Park.

A Johnson County district judge said Forsythe was a pedophile and ordered him to have no contact with teen-age boys - a restriction the judge later lifted.

Forsythe, who said Friday that he did not know he needed to register in South Dakota, pleaded guilty Dec. 8, 1989, to attempting indecent liberties with a child. He was sentenced to from one to five years in prison.

Forsythe served three months, and then was placed on probation and sent to a Catholic facility in New Mexico for seven months of residential treatment. He left the priesthood in 1990.

Since January 2000, Forsythe has been minister of Metropolitan Community Church of the Black Hills in Rapid City. The church is part of a growing denomination that serves predominantly gay and lesbian worshippers.

Forsythe said that he had remorse for what happened in Johnson County but that he did not pose a threat to teen-agers today.

"I love the ministry, and I loved the priesthood," Forsythe said Friday. "I thought I made a good priest. But I'm not called to be celibate. And for me to be in that environment was not healthy."

Church officials said that they were aware of Forsythe's past and that there had been no allegations of sexual misconduct against him since he joined the denomination.

"When he was appointed here, we were told by the district liaison," said Charles White, a lay delegate at the Rapid City church. "We've talked about it, but it's behind him now. He's a wonderful pastor. He made a mistake. It's all done and over."

Even so, Forsythe said he had never told the whole congregation, which numbers about 12, of his past.

White said that there are no youth in the church now but that there had been in the past.

Forsythe's name is not on a list of registered sex offenders, said Glen Yellow Robe, an investigator with the Rapid City Police Department. The penalty for not registering as a sex offender in South Dakota is up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000, Yellow Robe said.

"If he moves to Rapid City, if he's been convicted of a sex-crime felony, he needs to register," said Terri Reiner, who works with Yellow Robe at the Rapid City Police Department.

Forsythe said he planned to see a lawyer next week to register.

The Kansas charges against Forsythe involved activities in the Holy Cross rectory with a 15-year-old boy between May 1987 and May 1988. The Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas later paid the victim a cash settlement. The prosecutor in the case, Tom Bath, said at the time that Forsythe had sexual relations with at least three other youths dating to 1983.

Forsythe became involved with the Metropolitan Community Church while living in Denver in the early 1990s and said he told church officials immediately of his past.

"I found the church to be very, very supportive," Forsythe said. "The MCC is known as the church of second chances. And so I found a very forgiving community and a very affirming community."

The Metropolitan Community Church was founded in California in 1968 by Troy D. Perry. The denomination, which combines mainstream Christian beliefs with a strong penchant for tolerance and social justice, has about 40,000 members in about 300 churches around the world.

Last month Perry reaffirmed the denomination's "zero tolerance" policy on sexual abuse of children, in the wake of the sex abuse scandals sweeping the Roman Catholic church.

Jim Birkett, national spokesman for the Metropolitan Community Church, said that policy was not retroactive and therefore would not affect Forsythe's ministry.

 
 

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