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  Priest Accused of Misconduct with Minor
Austin Bishop Tells Central Texas Parish of Abuse Inquiry

By Eileen E. Flynn
Austin American-Statesman
May 13, 2002

MARTINDALE-- Parishioners at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church wept openly Sunday as Bishop Gregory Aymond announced that their pastor has been accused of inappropriate behavior with a minor.

The Rev. Dan Drinan, a member of the Eastern Province of the Claretians, is the first priest in the Austin Diocese whom Aymond has suspended because of alleged misconduct with a child. Drinan is staying at the order's headquarters in Chicago.

Martindale police are investigating the allegation. Drinan has not been arrested, and no charges have been filed, according to his lawyer, Roy Minton. Police did not return phone calls Sunday.

Aymond said it was painful to deliver the news Sunday, particularly because it was Mother's Day and the Feast of the Ascension. But he stressed his responsibility as bishop to investigate the matter.

The complaint was made to the diocese on April 25 and was referred to police the same day, Aymond said, following state law and the diocese's new ethics policy.

The bishop said the case involved one alleged incident in the past month. He provided no other specifics but said it "could be considered sexual."

Aymond said he spoke to the alleged victim and the child's family. "They are concerned that there not be any other victims," he said.

The bishop, who presided over Masses at Immaculate Heart on Sunday, told parishioners that any incidents should be reported to him or to the police.

"We want to reach out to any victims," he said. "We want to be there to provide healing."

"It's not true," said a woman at the back of the church, crying and shaking her head as she learned of the accusation against Drinan. "He's a saint."

Drinan had served as pastor at the church since August 1999.

Aymond made the announcement to parishioners in Martindale, a small community 10 miles west of Lockhart, at both Sunday Masses. He then addressed St. Michael Church, a sister parish, in nearby Uhland where Drinan also served.

Drinan was informed of the accusation April 26 and immediately left his post. He was already scheduled to leave this month because the Claretian order was pulling out of Central Texas, Aymond said.

Drinan was distraught when he heard the allegation, Aymond said.

"He was concerned about himself, naturally," he said. "But he was also very concerned about the community."

Minton, Drinan's Austin lawyer, said the priest will cooperate with the investigation and will not comment until it is completed.

Drinan, 53, marked 25 years as a priest last week. A spokesman for the Claretians in Chicago could not provide information on Drinan's background. Aymond said he was not aware of any similar accusations against Drinan while the priest served in the Austin Diocese.

Parishioners said Drinan breathed new life into their tiny parish by attracting people from neighboring towns and energizing young people to become involved in church activities.

Membership increased dramatically under Drinan's leadership, from about 200 families to 500. He was Immaculate Heart's first resident priest in many years, according to Aymond.

Teens raved about Drinan's pastoral guidance, describing the priest as down to earth and compassionate, a man who always "put himself last."

"He was like an idol," said James Gonzales, 17, looking away as tears streamed down his face.

When Iris Luera became pregnant at 16, she went to Drinan, who helped her tell her parents. The priest was Luera's first visitor when she gave birth to a daughter 10 months ago.

"He's a good listener," she said.

The Catholic Church has suffered serious damage to its image in recent months over allegations of sexual abuse by priests and reports that some church leaders responded by simply moving priests to other churches.

Pope John Paul II summoned American cardinals to Rome last month to discuss the issue. And U.S. bishops will meet in Dallas next month with expectations of developing stricter rules for dealing with errant priests.

In January, the Austin Diocese released its own ethics policy, which states that any report of sexual abuse must be immediately reported to police.

The policy also requires background checks of all clergy and religious and lay leaders, including volunteers, and spells out acceptable behavior between adults and children.

Accusations against two former Austin priests have come to light in recent weeks.

The Rev. Richard Nowery was accused of sexually abusing children in 1981 and 1986 when he was pastor of St. Ignatius Martyr Church in South Austin. He was removed from the New Orleans church where he was pastoring when the archdiocese there learned of the accusations last month.

The Rev. Rocco Perone was named in a lawsuit in Portland, Ore., last month that alleges he molested a 9-year-old boy dozens of times there over a two-year period. Perone, who was assigned to St. Austin's Catholic Church in 1957, died in 1992.

 
 

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