Allegations Spur Shock at St. Joe's
Parishoners Believe the Rev. Patrick Barrett's Word, Hope He Is Exonerated
By Lori Hall Steele
Traverse City Record-Eagle
June 4, 2002
Traverse City — One woman on Old Mission Peninsula couldn't sleep all night after hearing that her parish priest, the Rev. Patrick Barrett, had been placed on administrative leave due to allegations of sexual misconduct 30 years ago.
Others expressed shock, dismay and disbelief Monday over accusations that have disrupted a third northern Michigan parish since the crisis in the Roman Catholic church began earlier this year. Barrett denied the allegations in a letter to parishioners distributed in a church bulletin over the weekend.
"I have absolutely no knowledge of any abuse at any time. Nothing," Barrett wrote. "Such abuse is abhorrent. It is disgusting. I could not admit to any guilt and I feel whole and healthy within myself that it never happened."
Long-time parishioner Verna Bartnick said the situation among Catholic clergy is becoming "a little bit like the Salem witch hunt."
"In this particular case, there is a sense of bewilderment and anger," said Bartnick, owner of Old Mission Tavern and Bella Galleria. "I don't think anyone there really believes the accusations."
Bartnick questioned motivations behind the accusation and said she believes Barrett, "but there's such pressure on the church right now. We're supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, and he's denied he's guilty." Pedophiles, she said, tend to repeat their crimes.
"How could he have such a clean record within the parish for 30 years?" she asked.
Mike Dakoske, 52, a Traverse City banker and 20-year parish member, said Barrett has "always conducted himself as a well-qualified religious professional who's always done a fine job."
"It's my hope he's exonerated and gets back where he belongs, which is at St. Joe's," Dakoske said. "These are tough times for the church in general, but it's almost taking on hysterical proportions."
Barrett could not be reached for comment Monday. The Diocese of Gaylord announced Sunday that Barrett had been placed on administrative leave from St. Joseph Catholic Church in Mapleton, on Old Mission Peninsula, while church officials investigate the allegation.
An adult recently contacted Bishop Patrick Cooney alleging that Barrett was involved in sexual misconduct some 30 years ago, while the alleged victim was still a minor. The activity reportedly occurred outside the 21-county northern Michigan diocese.
The Diocesan Misconduct Commission deemed the information credible and warranting further investigation, prompting the leave of absence. Diocesan officials have declined to reveal additional information about the allegations against Barrett to protect the privacy of those involved.
Barrett was ordained in 1959 for the Diocese of Grand Rapids. He became a priest of the Diocese of Gaylord when it was formed in 1971, and he has served mostly in the western diocese, including at St. Francis in Traverse City.
Cooney presided over weekend masses at St. Joseph. He has declined to comment, but in a prepared statement said that the church's "first concern must be for any victim."
"No one should suffer from the evil of abuse and when it does occur, we each need to stand with those who have been victimized and do what we can to assist them on the path to healing," he stated. "At the same time, we must also work to assure that those who are accused are treated with justice and dignity."
When allegations involve clergy members, Cooney said "parishioners too may feel suddenly immersed in a sea of uncertainty" and urged care and compassion for all.
Barrett is the third northern Michigan priest involved in sexual misconduct allegations this year. The Rev. Ron Gronowski in May stepped down from churches in Lake City and Manton after admitting to sexual misconduct with a teen-ager in the 1970s. The Rev. Gerald Shirilla of Alpena earlier was terminated following publicity over accusations that he molested boys and young men while serving years ago in the Archdiocese of Detroit.
"We are saddened that there have been any allegations and do understand how that fact might create a sense of fear, quite naturally," diocese spokeswoman Candace Neff said. "In each of the three cases mentioned, the allegations go back approximately 30 years. We have and will act upon allegations according to our policies.
"At the same time, we must not lose sight of the very real truth that the majority of Catholic priests here and across the country have served faithfully to their call and have dedicated their entire lives to ministering to God's people."
The diocese - home to 82,000 Catholics and 62 active priests - also in appointed a nine-member committee to review existing sexual misconduct and priest-hiring policies, a move lauded by parishioners throughout the region.
At least seven Michigan priests have been removed since Jan. 1 as the national crisis among the Roman Catholic clergy continues.
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