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  Parishioners Pray for Priest's Return
Accusations of Sexual Abuse Haven't Swayed Many Church Members.

By Jennifer Garza
Sacramento Bee (California)
August 11, 2002

Since their priest left, they no longer have daily Mass at St. Joseph Parish in Lincoln.

Instead, shortly before 8 every weekday morning for the past two months, about 70 parishioners gather in the church sanctuary and say the rosary.

They pray for their priest. They pray for his health, his safety, but mostly they pray that the Rev. Vincent Brady will come back to lead their parish.

"We miss him terribly," said Jim Hobbs of Lincoln. "He is a holy man, a true man of God."

On June 14, Brady was removed as pastor of this small parish after he was accused for the second time of sexually abusing a minor, an incident that allegedly occurred more than 25 years ago. He was suspended from duty pending investigations by the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento and law-enforcement authorities. The diocese review is ongoing, but prosecutors have finished their investigation and will not file charges.

Brady has denied the accusations to parishioners.

Some of the church's 600 members say he was the best priest they ever had and that he could never hurt anyone. They say Brady was a victim of the times, that he was unfairly removed and that church leaders turned their back on someone who served the diocese more than three decades. But they will not.

"He is a man of God, and it is terrible what has happened to him," said Jane Yanez, 58, of Rocklin, who spoke at a recent meeting of Brady supporters at the church. "The faithful have got to start speaking up."

Fellow parishioners applauded.

Brady, 59, is on a long-planned trip out of the country and could not be reached for comment.

Church officials say the investigation into the allegations against the priest is continuing and is expected to be finished in a few weeks. While no priest has yet to be appointed to replace Brady at St. Joseph, an administrator will take over his duties beginning today.

The Solano County District Attorney's Office, the county in which the incidents allegedly occurred, has reviewed the allegations. It has no plans to bring charges against Brady, according to a spokeswoman for the office.

"So what happens to him now?" asked Elaine Sanovich, 59, of Lincoln.

It has been two months since the nation's Catholic bishops voted overwhelmingly, at a historic meeting in Dallas, to adopt a sweeping policy aimed at protecting children from sexually abusive priests. They vowed to remove from public ministry any priest who has sexually abused a child "past, present and future."

Now, the impact of the bishops' decision is being felt at home.

At churches across the country, some priests and parishioners are now filled with conflicting emotions about that policy, questioning the fairness and the legality of the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People."

"I think in the abstract people think it's a good idea to remove priests who have hurt a child," said Thomas Reese, editor of America magazine, one of the leading Catholic publications in the United States. "But when it's your priest - someone you know and like and believe to be a good priest - then it's different."

Since Dallas, Reese has heard from parishioners from around the country.

Nationally, more than 50 priests have been removed from their parishes or have resigned from the ministry since the bishops adopted the policy in June. About 250 had been removed before the meeting.

Some priests and parishioners are fighting the policy. In Chicago, five accused priests have asked the Vatican to return them to duty. In Newark, N.J., hundreds of parishioners are pressuring their bishop to bring their priest back. In Maui, more than 900 parishioners signed a petition supporting their pastor.

"All of a sudden, some parishes are losing their priest because he may or may not have done something 20 or 30 years ago ... and people are angry," Reese said. "It just doesn't seem fair to remove someone they believe to be a good priest based on something that happened decades ago, or in some instances, based on allegations.

"But to be fair to the bishops ... this is what people told them they wanted."

Parishioners at St. Joseph say this is not what they wanted. They are angry and frustrated. They blame the media, church leaders and a policy that some of them say "is guilty until proven innocent."

And they worry about the impact this will have on Brady.

"I know for a fact that he is devastated," said Harilyn Reusche, 67, of Lincoln.

Parishioners have reached out to their former priest. Many talk to him regularly. Others send him notes. A few have had long talks with him.

Although he has served in the Sacramento diocese more than three decades, Brady had only been in Lincoln two years. But in that time, he bonded with parishioners who were impressed with his devotion to the liturgy as well as his skills as an administrator.

"The very best priest I've ever had," said Francis Donohoe, 79, of Lincoln.

His supporters say the accusations are completely out of character for the man they know.

They say he was the kind of priest who was so traditional that he didn't even allow announcements to be made during Mass. He worked late into the night and could often be found in his office on Wednesday, his day off. He was a tireless fund-raiser who led the campaign for a new church building.

And under Brady, there was always a daily Mass.

"He was faithful," said Bernadine Williams, 67, who lives across the street from the rectory.

Although he was friendly, many say he kept a distance.

"He was brief in his conversation," Sanovich said. "But he had that Irish wit that won people over."

Yet victims-rights advocates say abusers are often the people others would least suspect.

"It's not going to be the guy sitting by himself in the corner at a party looking creepy," said David Clohessy, national director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. "Usually, it's the guy throwing the party. That's how these pedophiles work ... and that's how they get away with it."

Clohessy, who was in Sacramento last week for meetings at the Capitol, said any priest who has been accused of sexually molesting a child - but not proven guilty - should be removed.

"I'd rather risk the reputation of one man than the safety of a child," Clohessy said.

Brady told his parishioners about the first allegations during a Saturday evening Mass on March 24. He said that in July 1999 he had been accused of sexual misconduct and that the incident allegedly happened in the early 1970s. After the accusation, he told them, he had been placed on a leave of absence, had undergone extensive counseling and "a confidential settlement had been arrived at." He vigorously denied the accusations.

The alleged victim, Susan Hoey-Lees, a landscape architect living in Washington state, cried when told of Brady's announcement. She said he was lying.

"I'd like him to say that to my face," she said at the time.

Hoey-Lees said the priest abused her from the time she was 11 years old until she was 16 while he was serving as an assistant pastor at St. Vincent Ferrer Parish in Vallejo in the 1970s. Her parents say they caught the priest in bed with their daughter but were too shocked to do anything about it. Hoey-Lees sued the Sacramento diocese and received a $350,000 confidential settlement that has since become public.

Brady continued to deny the allegations, and in an interview with The Bee said, "Basically, it's her word versus my word, her life versus my life."

An investigation by Sacramento diocese officials found Hoey-Lees' recollections to be plausible, though not provable to "a moral certitude."

On April 27, Brady circulated a three-page letter to parishion- ers in response to a Bee story about Hoey-Lee's allegations. Again, he denied those claims.

On Friday, June 14 - the second day of the bishops' Dallas meeting - Brady was removed from the Lincoln church after a second woman claimed that the priest molested her when she was a child more than 25 years ago. That woman has not been identified.

Parishioners say Brady told them about the second allegation at early morning Mass.

His eyes were red and he told parishioners that he had not slept the night before. He then told them that there had been a second allegation and that he had to leave the church immediately. He apologized for leaving them in the lurch.

"I cried. I felt so bad for him," said Williams. "The man I know is a holy man."

Church officials say they had to remove Brady.

"That is the policy," said the Rev. James Murphy, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento. "And there's not much more I can say other than that the church investigation is ongoing."

Parishioners at St. Joseph want answers. Until then, they will continue meeting every weekday morning in the church sanctuary to say the rosary for their priest.

"I pray for the day Father Brady returns," Sanovich said.

 
 

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