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  Detroit Priest on Leave in Case Too Old to Prosecute

By Alexa Capeloto
Detroit Free Press
September 9, 2002

A Catholic priest accused of molesting a minor, but not criminally charged because of Michigan's statute of limitations, was removed from public ministry Sunday.

The Rev. Ron Williams, a well-known priest with a long record of ministry in the metro area, is on temporary administrative leave as pastor of St. Mary's of Redford Catholic Church in Detroit, the Archdiocese of Detroit announced.

Williams, 50, is one of 15 priests who Wayne County Prosecutor Michael Duggan said he might have charged had their alleged offenses occurred within the statute of limitations, the archdiocese said. The other 14 already have been removed from ministry. Archdiocesan officials informed the St. Mary's parish staff and council Friday and read a prepared statement at the church's three weekend masses. A parishioner also read a message from Williams denying the abuse and asking for their prayers.

The Rev. Jay Samonie, a retired priest, will serve as temporary administrator.

Williams was ordained in 1979 and has served as chaplain for the Detroit Police Department, Michigan State Police, the Girl Scouts, the National Guard and Bishop Gallagher High School in Harper Woods. Parishioners and friends rallied to his defense on Sunday.

"He is one of few African-American priests in the archdiocese and he came and did an enormous amount of good at St. Mary's," said Joe Maher, a longtime friend who was married by Williams in 1990. "He is always forward-thinking and very optimistic."

The archdiocese said a man came forward in late spring accusing Williams of abuse that allegedly happened more than 15 years ago. Catholic officials turned the case over to prosecutors under a new agreement to share information with civil authorities.

Prosecutors investigated and decided the case was too old to pursue, but the Detroit Archdiocese continues to investigate.

"We just need more time to resolve this," archdiocese spokesman Ned McGrath said. "While we're doing that, the best course of action is to have him on a temporary leave of absence."

Some members of St. Mary's said they already are planning public shows of support for Williams, including a candlelight vigil and group prayer. They credited Williams with breathing new life into the parish.

"People come from all over to be here," said Colleen Bury, a parish council member who came to St. Mary's in 1993, the same year Williams became pastor. "We are a very close parish. We're like family."

Williams began his ministry as associate pastor of St. Mary's in 1979. He was associate pastor of Our Lady Queen of Peace in Harper Woods and Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in Detroit. He was pastor of St. Juliana-St. John Berchmans in Detroit before returning to St. Mary's.

Bury said Williams oversaw several improvements to St. Mary's grounds, including a new parking lot, atrium and outdoor church sign. Last week the church installed a 51-bell carillon in its tower to replace recorded chimes.

"People are not happy he was yanked out of here," Bury said. "But the frustration is with the process, not with any doubt in Father Ron."

County prosecutors investigated 27 living priests after the archdiocese turned over files from the past 15 years in May. In addition to the 15 priests removed from ministry, four face criminal charges.

They include two former priests, Jason Sigler and Harry Benjamin, as well as the Rev. Robert Burkholder and the Rev. Edward Olszewski.

Contact ALEXA CAPELOTO at 586-469-9117 or capeloto@freepress.com.

 
 

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