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  Priest in Abuse Case Has Ties to Local Parishes

Maryland Gazette
June 5, 2002

BALTIMORE - A priest who admitted molesting six youths while serving in Baltimore-area parishes, including in Millersville and Crofton, has been working for a group that advises the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for the last 16 years.

The Rev. Michael Spillane, 59, admitted to molesting the youths while working in the parishes of the Baltimore Archdiocese from 1969 to 1986.

The Rev. Spillane, who is the executive director of the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions, acknowledged the sexual abuse in 1991. That's when he was confronted by archdiocesan officials after one of the victims came forward, archdiocese spokesman Raymond P. Kempisty said.

The Rev. Spillane was assigned to Our Lady of the Fields in Millersville in 1975 and to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Crofton from 1975 to 1986, where he was pastor.

The archdiocese immediately revoked the Rev. Spillane's right to celebrate Mass and perform the sacraments. It also informed the federation of its actions against the Rev. Spillane and the reason for them, Mr. Kempisty said.

But the federation's current chairman and a spokesman for the bishops' conference said last week they had been unaware of the Rev. Spillane's admission and the archdiocese's sanctions.

The archdiocese recently received a new allegation that the Rev. Spillane committed child sex abuse in the late 1960s, and it has reported that case to prosecutors, Mr. Kempisty said.

Church officials do not know whether the recent complainant is one of the six people the Rev. Spillane had admitted molesting, Mr. Kempisty said.

He said when the priest made his admission in 1991, the archdiocese knew the name only of the person who had come forward and it did not learn the identities of the other five victims.

The federation is funded by Catholic dioceses across the country. Although it works closely with the U.S. bishops' conference, it is independent in terms of its finances and administration, said the Rev. John H. Burton, the federation's chairman.

The Rev. Burton said the Rev. Spillane is to retire from his post this year. He said if he had known earlier about the Rev. Spillane's past, he would not necessarily have asked him to resign.

"You don't put people back in a situation where they can repeat the event," the Rev. Burton said, noting the Rev. Spillane's job gave him "no contact with children."

At the same time, "any human being needs to be productive, and I can tell you that Father Spillane in this situation was very productive," the Rev. Burton said.

"When a man has tried to right the wrong and has fixed his life, I'd be very careful about zero tolerance."

David Clohessy, executive director of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said the Rev. Spillane should not have been allowed to continue working at the federation.

"No matter what you do from 9 to 5, if you can wear a Roman collar, you can find parents who will trust you with their child," Mr. Clohessy said.

The victim who reported the Rev. Spillane's abuse in 1991 came forward last week and said he was upset that the Rev. Spillane "still serves in a good position in the church."

 
 

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