Removed Priests Go Uneasily into New Lives
As Some Await Vatican Decision on Charter, Others Back in Society
By Holly Becka
Dallas Morning News
October 27, 2002
First in an occasional series
A Toledo, Ohio, priest whose parishioners forgave his 1988 molestation conviction is being considered for a lay job in the diocese that ousted him in June.
A former Texas priest found work as a country club groundskeeper. Two others in Amarillo, given 48 hours to leave their rectories, knocked on the door of a convent and begged the nuns for a place to stay.
And a priest booted from the Jefferson City, Mo., diocese lives in a residential facility for clerics who need supervision.
In the months since U.S. Catholic bishops adopted a tougher policy on sexual abuse of children, dioceses have removed from ministry dozens of priests - including many who had been allowed to remain on the job despite decades-old misconduct.
The bishops' charter - parts of which the Vatican says must be revised to conform to church law - calls for removed priests to live a life of prayer and penance. But where should they live? And are dioceses obligated to monitor them to further safeguard children?
A spot check of a dozen dioceses around the country found a variety of answers.
Several bishops adopted a wait-and-see posture, working on the assumption that the Vatican would reject the U.S. bishops' plan. A final decision is expected next month. And while all 12 dioceses had removed priests, at least five considered those priests to be on leave pending a decision.
A panel of Vatican officials and U.S. bishops is beginning work this week on revisions.
Won't be returned
Because most of the removed priests had admitted to abusing children, they are not likely to be returned to ministry even if the revised charter provides more protections for accused priests, said Bishop Joseph Galante, a member of the U.S. bishops' sexual abuse committee.
"Most of the priests who were removed are not fighting it," said Bishop Galante, coadjutor of the Diocese of Dallas. "Where there are problems is where there are allegations and the priests insist they didn't do it."
The recent removals of priests are not the first. Over the last two decades, hundreds of U.S. priests have been removed or left the ministry because of sexual abuse allegations. The Dallas diocese, for example, has removed at least 10 accused priests since the mid-1980s.
Many of these priests have built new lives working in new professions - sometimes with the support of the church, parishoners and public institutions.
In some instances, bishops have publicly released the names of removed priests; in others, dioceses will provide only general information.
In the Diocese of Albany, N.Y., six priests were removed in late June, four of whom worked in parishes, said Father Kenneth Doyle, diocesan spokesman.
The priests are natives of the diocese, he said. One stays with his parents, two live with friends. Each has been assigned a social worker to help them find housing, jobs and meet other needs, he said. The diocese will provide this service for a year. One priest is appealing.
Father Doyle said that wherever the priests wind up, the diocese intends to stay in contact.
"They could move to some other part of the country. They could not, of course, practice any kind of public ministry in those other parts of the country," he said, "because to do that they would need a letter of recommendation or authorization from our bishop to the receiving bishop, which of course they are not going to get."
A few dioceses either had no idea about the location of their removed priests or bristled at questions about whether they should keep track of the men.
"We're not a probation agency; that's a matter for the criminal courts, that's not a matter for us," said Dennis McGrath, spokesman for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
Two of the three priests removed in recent months by the archdiocese had successfully worked for years in administrative jobs after pleading guilty to child sex abuse crimes, he said.
"These [two] are individuals who have admitted past instances, who have been through a great deal of counseling and therapy and who served their debt to society," Mr. McGrath added.
The third priest, who had also worked in an adminstrative job, has denied the accusations and is appealing.
The Diocese of Fort Worth makes monthly phone calls to its only removed priest, Father Rudolf Renteria, who was ousted in July because of a 1981 accusation that he fondled a 14-year-old boy. The bishop confronted Father Renteria at the time, but the priest could neither confirm nor deny the incident because of alcohol use.
"We're staying in touch with him, but I don't know what we could do much more than that," said Father Robert Wilson, chancellor of the diocese.
When Bishop Joseph Delaney removed Father Renteria, he said he was unconcerned that the priest lived close to schools.
"The incident happened 21 years ago," Bishop Delaney said. "To our knowledge, nothing has happened since. I really don't think there's any danger."
Father Renteria's house is on Constitution Drive in northwest Dallas, within blocks of E.H. Cary Middle School and Thomas Jefferson High School. Last week, it was cheerily decorated for Halloween, with lighted ceramic pumpkins peering from a front window and a jaunty scarecrow perched near the garage. He declined to comment.
Father Wilson said the priest and Bishop Delaney were discussing Father Renteria's financial needs and the priest was looking for a job.
No legal authority
The Rev. Thomas Doyle, a canon law expert who co-authored a landmark 1985 report of sexual abuse by the clergy, said once priests are dismissed from ministry, dioceses have no legal authority over the men. But he believes they have a responsibility to monitor clerics who have abused children, no matter the priests' status.
"The obligation is certainly a moral obligation, but also canonical in that the bishop has a responsibility for the spiritual welfare of all in his charge and also a responsibility not to hide or cover for known criminals," Father Doyle said.
"By ignoring any responsibilities, the bishop is an accomplice in further crimes."
In the Archdiocese of Chicago, eight priests were permanently "withdrawn from ministry" shortly after the charter's adoption. A review board had considered the men's cases years ago and had returned some of them to limited ministries and one to parish work, said James Dwyer, archdiocesan communications director.
Two of the withdrawn priests have resigned from the church, and one retired, but the archdiocese is monitoring and providing money to the other five, who are appealing to the Vatican.
"They do have some form of subsistence, of course, but I don't know if there's a specific amount," Mr. Dwyer said. "If they resign the priesthood, there's a separation agreement usually because we believe it would be irresponsible to just throw an ex-priest out on the street. ... It depends on the individual. It's a very complex issue."
Victims have also lodged abuse complaints this year against seven other Chicago priests, who have been removed while the archdiocese considers their cases, Mr. Dwyer said. One of the seven was already retired, he said.
The Diocese of Amarillo lost more priests than any other Texas district after the charter's adoption in June.
Bishop John Yanta forced eight to retire or resign because of sex-abuse allegations. He said none of the alleged incidents had occurred while the priests were in the diocese. One, however, was jailed Oct. 4 on a child sexual assault charge.
Two of the removed priests - the Revs. Dennis Boylan and Neal Dee - had 48 hours to move from their rectories. Desperate, they rang the bell at the St. Francis Convent. Provincial superior Sister Geraldine Duran let them use a vacant mobile home on the grounds, said retired Bishop Leroy Matthiesen.
Their parishioners loaned them furniture, he said, and a week later they found apartments.
Father Dee is among four ousted priests who were eligible to retire and receive a pension. Monsignor Orville Blum retired after a woman recently accused him of abusing her while he was her teacher at Alamo Catholic High School in the mid-1970s. A parishioner is allowing him to live rent-free in a Hereford house. He works as a groundskeeper at an Amarillo country club, Bishop Matthiesen said.
"It's a terrible loss of a good mind, but he's not sitting back doing the pity-party routine," the bishop emeritus said.
Father John Salazar-Jimenez, who spent time in prison for abusing two California boys in the 1980s, went to a treatment facility in Ontario, Canada, and may remain north of the border after he completes a program to prepare him for a secular job, Bishop Matthiesen said.
In St. Louis, Jim Orso, the archdiocesan spokesman, said he could not provide detailed information about five priests who were placed on paid leave. A sixth priest was laicized, and a seventh retired to an archdiocesan-funded home.
"I'm being told the archdiocese is in contact with all these priests, that they are being monitored on a case-by-case basis," Mr. Orso said. "They are all being supported in one way or another."
He said he did not have details and could not elaborate.
One priest has pleaded guilty to a federal indictment stemming from a child pornography ring and is awaiting sentencing. Mr. Orso said he was unsure how long the archdiocese would continue to give that priest financial support.
In Southern California, five priests in the Diocese of Orange have left or been put on leave in the last year - one since the charter, said spokeswoman Maria Schinderle.
So far, only one of those priests has been permanently removed from ministry, she said. He lives in a private residence and qualifies to draw part of his pension.
'Mission of Jesus'
"The church is supposed to take care of everybody, the victims of crime as well as those who may have been the perpetrator," said Ms. Schinderle. "That's what the mission of Jesus Christ is all about."
But if a priest is out of ministry, she said, "the inevitability is those priests are going to have to find a means of support."
A few dioceses said they would take accused priests' cases to their local review boards - the next step toward permanent removal - after the Vatican's decision. In the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, for example, the cases of four priests - who admitted they molested children and were put on leave in 1992 - must go before a review board that is adding more lay members.
Four other priests who were returned to ministry years ago also must face the review board after the local policy is updated to bring it in line with the bishops' charter, archdiocesan spokesman Dan Andriacco said.
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