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  Priest Returns to Ministry
Rule Assigned to Chesterfield

By Alberta Lindsey
Richmond Times Dispatch (Virginia)
November 6, 2002

The Rev. Steven R. Rule, on administrative leave since August because of an allegation of sexual misconduct, has been assigned as a priest at Church of the Epiphany in Chesterfield County.

After an investigation, the Diocese of Richmond's Sexual Abuse Review Board concluded that Rule's behavior did not warrant removal from priestly ministry.

The board said, however, that 26 years ago Rule had placed himself and the student who made the allegation in a situation that "was inappropriate and exceeded boundaries under the circumstances."

The board's recommendations and the Most Rev. Walter F. Sullivan's decision were outlined at a news conference yesterday by the Rev. Pasquale Apuzzo, diocesan spokesman. Sullivan, bishop of the diocese, did not attend. Rule did not attend and could not be reached for comment.

In keeping with the review board's recommendations, Sullivan took Rule off administrative leave. The assignment at Epiphany will allow Rule to make the transition back into priestly duties. Rule, 53, will work with Monsignor Thomas F. Shreve, Epiphany's pastor.

Shreve said Rule has his full support and confidence.

Rule's exoneration and return to active ministry is a welcome and long overdue announcement, Shreve said in a statement to parishioners. Even though he will only be at Epiphany for a limited time during this transitional period, Shreve said, Rule is a welcome addition to the staff and parish.

"Traditionally, we look to our priests to lead us through the difficult moments in our lives," Shreve's statement continued. "Now we have the opportunity to put our Christian ideals and values at the service and healing of a priest who has faithfully served others throughout his life."

Scott Arnold, president-elect of Epiphany's Parish Council, said he was not surprised at the board's finding that Rule's actions did not warrant removal from ministry.

"We will be glad to have him," Arnold said. "He's a very good pastoral minister and he can help Father Shreve .*.*. We have about 2,000 families. One would expect a church of this size to have a pastoral associate, but because of the priest shortage, we don't. Having Father Rule will certainly help Epiphany."

Rule's attorney, John E. Lichtenstein cq> of Roanoke, issued a statement saying Rule "very much looks forward to getting back to work in the ministry to which he has devoted his life."

The process was intensely traumatic, the statement said. "But Father Rule's faith in God and what he knew to be true in his heart gave him a certain and durable peace throughout this difficult experience."

The statement also said Rule did not oppose the investigation and that he fully participated and cooperated in the process. "He is very appreciative of the time and effort of all those whose work was necessary to fully assess and conclude this matter."

Sullivan placed Rule on administrative leave in August because of an allegation of sexual misconduct with a former high school student at St. John Vianney Seminary in Goochland County in 1976. The former student has not been identified.

The claim involved a single incident between Rule and the student, who was in his junior year. At the time, Rule was on the faculty and served as dean of students. St. John Vianney closed in 1978 for financial reasons.

On Sept. 11, Sullivan referred the claim to the Diocesan Review Board, which looked into the allegation. It was the first case referred to the board, which was appointed in August.

In a statement, Sullivan said: "Having served as a priest for 27 years, Father Rule has demonstrated fine abilities as a pastor and has won the love and respect of parishioners around the diocese. This is the only allegation that has come about him. Yet, even one event from the distant past demands strict attention to what is proper and acceptable behavior with young people entrusted to our care."

Sullivan added that he respected the person who came forward and appreciated his participation in the diocesan review process.

Apuzzo said Rule and the claimant cooperated fully with the review board.

Before the announcement of Sullivan's decision, James Meath, chairman of the review board, discussed the decision with the man who made the allegation. Sullivan met with Rule on Monday.

Rule was pastor of St. Andrew Catholic Church in Roanoke when he was placed on administrative leave. He was slated to become pastor of St. Gabriel Catholic Church in Chesterfield in September. Apuzzo is filling in at St. Gabriel.

In addition to his stint at St. John Vianney, Rule held other positions in the Richmond area. He was campus minister at the University of Richmond and director of the diocesan high school vocations program in 1978-79. He was deacon at Our Lady of Lourdes for five months in 1975.

Rule was the third priest to face allegations about incidents at St. John Vianney. The other two are the Rev. John E. Leonard, pastor of St. Michael Catholic Church in Glen Allen, who is being investigated by Goochland authorities, and the Rev. Julian Goodman, who was forced to retire by Sullivan.

 
 

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