Toledo Diocese Removes Four Priests from Ministry

Associated Press State & Local Wire
July 7, 2002

To comply with a new national policy, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Toledo removed from the ministry four priests accused of sexually abusing children.

Bishop James Hoffman told parishioners Sunday during Mass at St. Michael the Archangel Church in Toledo that their pastor, the Rev. Robert J. Fisher, 49, was removed for being convicted in 1988 of sexually abusing a 14-year-old girl.

"Sexual abuse of children is a serious crime and a grave sin and I deeply regret the anguish such shameful acts have caused the victims and their families," Hoffman said in a written statement.

The diocese has about 200 priests and covers 19 counties in northwest Ohio.

The diocese also informed other churches Sunday that three other priests were removed from the ministry. Those priests are: the Rev. Lawrence C. Scharf, 63, pastor of St. Joseph in Monroeville; the Rev. John C. Shiffler, 50, administrator of Our Lady of Fatima in Lyons and Our Lady of Mercy in Fayette; and the Rev. Robert R. Thomas, 71, retired pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Toledo.

No one could be reached for comment at those churches, and no telephone numbers were listed for the priests.

Hoffman said the removals follow a national policy adopted last month by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The policy bars priests found to have committed sexual abuse from parish work and all public ministry. The policy also allows bishops acting on the advice of an advisory board to decide whether to oust abusive clergy from the priesthood.

A committee of lay people will meet to review the diocese's policy on sex abuse adopted in 1995 and revise it to reflect the national changes, Hoffman said.

Hoffman placed Fisher on administrative leave in May, even though he said most parishioners knew about his past.

Fisher pleaded guilty in 1988 to misdemeanor charges of sexual imposition and contributing to the sexual abuse of a minor while associate pastor of St. Rose Church in Perrysburg. He spent 30 days in jail and four years in therapy and counseling.

Scharf took a leave of absence from St. Joseph in April about the time allegations began to surface from two men who said he sexually abused them in the past. Scharf left to go to a treatment center in Canada, which deals with alcohol, drug and sexual addictions, a diocese official said.

Scharf admitted to Hoffman that the accusations were true, the diocese said. The abuse occurred in 1976 while Scharf was pastor of St. Mary Church in Kirby and St. Peter Church in Sandusky and in 1981 while he was pastor of Resurrection Church in Lexington, the diocese said.

Shiffler admitted to sexually abusing two minors before 1986, according to the diocese. He received inpatient therapy and served in limited ministry for a year before becoming administrator of Our Lady of Fatima and Our Lady of Mercy.

Thomas admitted to sexual misconduct with a minor while pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help from 1982 through 1984, the diocese said. After receiving therapy, he was named pastor of Holy Trinity in Bucyrus and then transferred to Tucson, Arizona, diocese. The Tucson Diocese also removed Thomas from the ministry in June.


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