Parishioners Want Dismissed Priest Back

The Advocate [Baton Rouge, Louisiana]
May 10, 2002

New Orleans - The Archdiocese of New Orleans overreacted last week in dismissing a priest following allegations that he sexually abused two minors in the 1980s, some of the priest's former parishioners said.

The parishioners of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church have organized a petition drive in support of the Rev. C. Richard Nowery, whose dismissal was announced May 3 after the archdiocese learned of allegations stemming from his work in the Austin, Texas, diocese in 1981 and 1986. The archdiocese kept Nowery's removal quiet for six days, revealing it to the church's parish council May 3 and to the parish at large during services Saturday.

"We forgive him for anything he's done in the past," said church organist Wayne Wilkinson, who organized the petition. "We know him as a very kindhearted, loving person who has brought the parish together."Wilkinson said the officials provided more details of Nowery's actions in Austin when they announced his removal. One incident involved a 17-year-old boy, Wilkinson said, and alcohol was a factor. The other incident was verbal, he said.

"There was no touching," Wilkinson said.

Nowery received psychological treatment after the allegations and was allowed to return to the ministry.

Nowery came to New Orleans in 1994, joining Scared Heart of Jesus as an associate pastor, and became pastor in 1995. He has not been accused of any improprieties since 1986.

"He is not a sexual predator," Wilkinson said. "He is a very spiritual person."About 70 parishioners have signed the petition asking for Nowery's return, Wilkinson said.

Many of Nowery's supporters believe that Nowery was dismissed because church officials are being overcautious in light of the recent church scandals nationwide, he said.

"The church is trying to make up for its past mistakes and found some sacrificial lamb," he said.

An archdiocesan spokesman said officials are looking for someone to replace Nowery at Sacred Heart of Jesus.

"He cannot serve in the Archdiocese of New Orleans in light of these past instances," the Rev. William Maestri said. "That's our policy."


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