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  Tulsa Bishop Suspends Priest in Widening Abuse Scandal Pastor Denies Allegations He Molested Children in '70s

By Brooks Egerton and Reese Dunklin
Dallas Morning News
August 2, 2002

The Tulsa Diocese's clergy abuse scandal widened Thursday as Bishop Edward Slattery suspended a priest who was recently accused of molesting two children about 25 years ago and police inquiries expanded.

The Rev. Paul Eichhoff is the third of Bishop Slattery's priests to be publicly accused this week of sexual misconduct.

Father Eichhoff denies the allegations and "intends to cooperate fully with the authorities," the diocese said in a news release. The priest, most recently pastor of St. Cecilia Catholic Church in the northeast Oklahoma town of Claremore, could not be reached for comment.

The Dallas Morning News on Sunday reported allegations of a lay ministerial worker that Father Eichhoff, as pastor of Tulsa's Church of St. Mary in 1993, had threatened to fire her if she told anyone about seeing associate pastor Kenneth Lewis in bed, clothed, with a boy.

Neither Father Eichhoff nor the diocese has responded to the allegations of Evelyn McMahon, who later quit St. Mary's after Father Lewis was allowed to keep working.

The U.S. Catholic Church's new abuse policy, passed by bishops at their historic Dallas meeting in June, does not address whether bishops and other church leaders will be punished for keeping accused priests on the job.

Bishop Slattery has been criticized by a national group of clergy abuse victims for not implementing other provisions of the policy aggressively. Among other things, the group said that he should have told authorities long ago about Father Lewis, the priest who was in the bed.

Resigned last week

Father Lewis resigned last week from a church in McAlester and has become one target of a Tulsa police investigation.

That inquiry also is examining church leaders' actions and was broadened Thursday to include the allegations against Father Eichhoff.

"It's kind of a tangled web," said Tulsa police Sgt. Liz Woollen. "And it keeps growing."

Father Lewis has denied wrongdoing. This week, he acknowledged being in bed with the boy while at St. Mary's but said it was a misunderstood joke. Other physical contact he had with several sixth- and seventh-graders at the Tulsa church was nothing more than innocent affection, he said.

Through an attorney, some of those youths have said that Father Lewis touched their genitals. Bishop Slattery has said no one has reported such allegations to the diocese, though he apologized this week for returning Father Lewis to duty in the mid-1990s after a stint at a treatment center.

The other priest publicly accused this week is the Rev. John Jangam, whom the diocese quickly sent back to his native India in 1999 after he was accused of revealing the contents of a confession and trying to hug and kiss a girl in the town of Pryor.

The girl has recently accused him of molesting her, too, and Pryor police said Thursday that they have begun investigating.

A confessional matter

Bishop Slattery has said that Father Jangam was excommunicated because of the confessional matter, but the priest told the Tulsa World this week that he is in good standing and operating an orphanage in India. He has denied wrongdoing.

The diocese did not report the Lewis or Jangam situations to government authorities. It said it wasn't required to because there were no allegations of sexual abuse, only of "inappropriate conduct."

Dr. Henry Harder, a spokesman for the diocese and its chancellor, said that the diocese also did not report the Jangam matter "because the parents did not want it done."

The girl's mother this week disputed that account and said that a diocesan official asked her family to stay quiet about the matter until the priest had left the country.

Oklahoma law says that anyone with "reason to believe" a child is an abuse victim must report the matter promptly to child-welfare officials.

In its news release Thursday, the diocese said that the Eichhoff allegations have been "referred to the proper authorities." Sgt. Woollen said she learned of the accusations this week from the family of one alleged victim and had not heard from the diocese about them.

According to another source close to the police investigation, Father Eichhoff has been accused of sexual contact with two grade-schoolers in the late 1970s, when he was associate pastor of St. Mary's.

 
 

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