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  Columbus Priest Who Abused Boy Awaits New Duties

By Dennis M. Mahoney
Columbus Dispatch (Ohio)
June 29, 2002

The assignment of a priest removed from a Columbus parish because of past sexual abuse remains uncertain until the Columbus Roman Catholic Diocese implements new rules adopted by U.S. bishops.

Monsignor Joseph Fete -- pulled as pastor from a West Side parish in April for sexually abusing a teen-age boy early in his career -- has yet to report for duty as the director of ecumenical affairs for the diocese.

Tom Berg, diocesan spokesman, said Bishop James A. Griffin thinks Fete's situation will be "unclear" until the provisions of the charter on sexual abuse are in place. Griffin voted for the charter during the recent meeting of U.S. bishops in Dallas.

Berg said the diocese also is waiting to see whether the charter is approved by the Vatican.

While some expect the Vatican to move more quickly than usual, the review is expected to take some time. Meanwhile, U.S. dioceses will proceed with implementing the charter.

The charter calls for any priest who has committed sexual abuse of a young person to be removed from ministry. He may not say Mass publicly, wear priestly garb or present himself as a priest.

Berg said the position of director of ecumenical affairs, a new post, will not be filled for now. Asked whether it is unlikely that Fete will ever fill the position, he said, "I wouldn't go that far."

He said he does not know Fete's whereabouts.

Fete has acknowledged that he sexually abused a teen-age boy from 1976 to 1979, while he was an associate pastor at St. Joseph Cathedral Downtown.

In 1999, the victim threatened to sue the diocese, and Griffin has said he became aware of Fete's actions at that time. The diocese made a financial settlement with the victim, who lives in Dayton, but both sides have refused to disclose the amount.

While the sexual contact between Fete and the victim ended in 1979, they continued to talk periodically.

The case against Fete materialized in early 1999, when the victim, who was 15 when the molestations began, secretly recorded a telephone conversation he had with the priest.

During that conversation, a transcript of which was obtained by The Dispatch from Craig Matthews, the Centerville attorney who represented the victim, Fete admitted that he had molested the boy and said: "I did betray your trust. And I am very sorry for that."

At that time, Fete said that he had been discussing the molestation with a psychiatrist for more than a year.

He said the psychiatrist advised him not to turn himself in to church authorities "because it had happened so many years ago, and I did not display any further symptoms of pedophilia."

Fete, who offered to pay the victim's expenses for psychological treatment, said at the time of the molestation, he believed the celibacy requirement for priests would be lifted by the church.

"I had this stupid thinking in those days that I didn't have to be celibate in order to be a priest," he said.

The victim asked why other priests on the cathedral staff said nothing at the time, knowing that the victim was spending nights in Fete's room.

"In those days, we didn't consider that such a thing would be happening," Fete replied.

Fete, when pressed by the victim, admitted that after the molestations stopped in 1979, he had sex with someone his own age during the mid-1980s.

"I had one lapse. . . . I think I was about 38, when I started my midlife crisis, so to speak. But that was it; it was one fleeting person and I thought it was so stupid, and ridiculous and silly."

The victim at one point said to Fete: "I think you need to turn yourself in. I think you need to think about what you did to me. . . . You've had a life for 20-some years. I've had a life, but it's been hell. It's been hell trying to forget the pain and horror that's been caused by what you did."

He added, "I've done my sentence for something I didn't do. . . . I think in a way the church and you need to do time for the crime."

When the settlement occurred in 1999, Griffin removed Fete from St. Joseph, where he had been rector since 1992, and the priest began therapy.

In the summer of 2001, the bishop, saying the therapist assured him that Fete was not a threat to anyone, assigned him as pastor of St. Margaret of Cortona Church on the West Side.

Later, Griffin said he removed Fete from St. Margaret because the priest "found it increasingly difficult to minister with this incident hanging over his head."

The bishop also said he removed him to eliminate any suspicion that the diocese was moving priests from parish to parish to cover up abusive conduct, which has occurred in some dioceses around the nation.

 
 

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