Bishop Advised on 2 Guilty Priests

By Dennis M. Mahoney
Columbus Dispatch [Ohio]
October 10, 2002

The Columbus Catholic Diocese board investigating sex-abuse allegations agreed yesterday on the fate of two priests guilty of misconduct, but won't make the decision public yet.

Yvette McGee Brown, chairwoman of the five-member board, said members have given Bishop James A. Griffin their unanimous recommendations for action in the cases of Monsignor Joseph Fete and the Rev. Michael Ellifritz.

Using the board's recommendations, Griffin will make the final decision, which will be revealed after he has told Fete and Ellifritz, McGee Brown said. She said she expects the announcement "in the next several days."

Fete has admitted to sexually abusing a teen-age boy when he was an associate pastor at St. Joseph Cathedral from 1976 to '79.

He was removed as pastor of St. Margaret of Cortona Church on the West Side in April and appointed director of ecumenical affairs, a new diocesan position. He has not assumed those duties, however.

Tom Berg, diocesan spokesman, said yesterday that he does not know Fete's whereabouts.

Ellifritz admitted having "improper contact" with a boy about 20 years ago. In recent years, he was a chaplain at Riverside Methodist Hospital and lived at St. Mary Magdalene Church on the West Side.

In July, the diocese announced he was retiring for health reasons. Ellifritz is living in Florida.

Under a charter adopted by U.S. bishops in Dallas in June, Fete and Ellifritz either must be removed from public ministry or dismissed from the priesthood because they have admitted misconduct.

McGee Brown said the board -- established under the Dallas charter -- expects to make a recommendation in the case of the Rev. Martin Weithman at its next meeting on Oct. 29.

Weithman is accused of molesting Dennis Palmer in the late 1980s when Palmer was a teen-ager.

Weithman denies the allegation and is on administrative leave as pastor of Seton Parish in Pickerington. Palmer, a graduate of the former Wehrle High School, lives near Cleveland.

Berg said details of cases involving accused priests will not be made public because they are part of the priests' personnel files, which the diocese considers confidential.

Fete admitted the sexual abuse in 1999 after the victim, who now lives in Dayton, secretly recorded a telephone conversation in which Fete acknowledged the misconduct. The diocese agreed to a financial settlement, which has not been disclosed.

The diocese has not revealed details of Ellifritz's case. But the brother and sister of a Columbus man who died in 1993 of AIDS complications said Ellifritz molested their brother repeatedly in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Dan Kobermann and his sister, Patsy Kobermann Schwenk, said their brother, Donald, spent three summers living at parishes where Ellifritz was pastor. One was Sts. Peter and Paul in Wellston, about 65 miles south of Columbus; the other, St. Luke in Danville, about 50 miles northeast of the city.

Donald Kobermann lived at the parishes -- at Ellifritz's suggestion -- to work on an Eagle Scout project, his siblings said. The priest was a Scout chaplain for years.

Dan Kobermann said he learned of the molestations when his brother was a college student.

"It would happen at night, either on a trip, because he would take him on trips, or at the rectory," Kobermann recalled his brother saying.

Schwenk said her brother reported the incidents to the diocese, but no action apparently was taken. She said her brother contracted AIDS years later.

McGee Brown would not say how many victims were involved in Ellifritz's case or whether Donald Kobermann was one.


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