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  Church Attends to Ousted Priests
Some Catholics Object to Social Services for Six in Abuse Scandal

By Deborah Martinez
Times Union (Albany, NY)
July 28, 2002

Six priests removed from public ministry last month by the Albany Diocese for sexually abusing minors have been assigned a caseworker to help them acquire job skills outside the church and emotionally adjust to the fallout from the scandal.

The decision by Bishop Howard Hubbard to provide social services for the priests follows the Catholic Church's long-held mission to minister to those who have sinned and are trying to reform their lives, says one church scholar.

"It's a guess, but I'd say Bishop Hubbard is probably a couple steps ahead of other bishops in deciding to assign a case manager," said the Rev. Thomas J. Reese, publisher of the Catholic magazine America. "I think it shows again what he is known for everywhere: his compassionate, pastoral leadership. Ultimately, the other bishops are going to decide to do very similar things. Just because these people are priests doesn't mean the church shouldn't do the same for them."

But Hubbard's decision has angered some people, who argue the church continues to be more sympathetic to the priests than to abuse victims.

"The church apparently is prepared to follow these priests for the rest of their lives and we should expect no less for the victims," said Sharon Jones Witbeck, a 48-year-old divorced mother of three. It was Witbeck's allegations earlier this year that she was abused decades ago by the Rev. Joseph Mancuso that led Hubbard to eventually remove Mancuso as pastor of Mount Carmel Church in Schenectady.

"Victims have been left with lifelong emotional scars and therefore are also the responsibility of the church," she said.

In addition to being set up with a caseworker, the six priests continue to receive a salary and health benefits, said the Rev. Kenneth Doyle, a diocese spokesman. They also will likely receive some kind of pension if they ever do leave the church.

"They are still our responsibility," Doyle said. He did not specify how much money that meant for the diocese, though their salaries averaged about $18,000. "The bishop believes we need to help them make this transition."

A national vote by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Dallas last month decided any priest guilty of child sex abuse should be removed from whatever form of public or official ministry he practiced, though the priest would not have to be defrocked.

Hubbard was the only bishop to stand up and urge a more lenient policy. The zero-tolerance policy did not specify when or how the nation's more than 280 bishops would handle their priests' removal. And it did not set a deadline for when the removed priests would have to decide if they would choose a life of "penance and prayer" in a monastery or join the secular work force.

Of the six men removed by Hubbard, only the Rev. John Patrick Bertolucci has publicly stated he has decided on a life of prayer and penance, though he continues to stay in his deceased mother's Catskill home and not in a monastery.

Another, the Rev. James Rosch, is peacefully adjusting to secular life while he appeals his removal to the Vatican. Parishioners of his former Fort Edward church, St. Joseph's, have planned a "kitchen shower" for next month to help the ousted priest furnish the four-room apartment he rented after he was forced to leave the rectory. Rosch also has been sitting in the pews during Sunday services since he was removed last month.

"As long as he has no official role, he is not prohibited to be a member of the church community," Doyle said. "If they want him there in Fort Edward, he has the right."

Yet some parishioners remain angry over a decision by the diocese's sexual abuse task force not to remove five other priests accused of sexual misconduct over the years. Doyle said the task force, which acts on the advice of a local prosecutor he would not identify, decided the allegations against those five priests were not substantial enough to remove them from ministry.

In addition to those 11 priests investigated, six of whom were on Hubbard's removal list last month, the diocese is currently looking into several new allegations against other priests.

On Saturday, it was also learned that the Rev. John Fitzpatrick had been removed during the 1990s because of sexual misconduct with a minor. Fitzpatrick worked at parishes in Schenectady and Saratoga counties over the years.

As the church continues on its healing process, Hubbard and other leaders will have to weigh their obligations to their ministers against the possibility of offending parishioners and victims.

"After everything in Dallas and all the moves to remove priests from active ministry, now it's a question of what do we do with all these men out of work?" Reese said. "Getting them treatment is extremely important, because if they are no longer acting as priests you want to make absolutely sure they don't get in trouble again, or into a situation where they have contact with children."

But for Witbeck, the church's devotion to the priests gets to the root of what caused the scandal in the first place.

"If the victims and potential victims had been the church's priority years ago, the whole situation could have been prevented," she said.

 
 

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