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  Church Officials Reinstate Former Roanoke Pastor
The Rev. Steven 'Randy' Rule Was Placed on Administrative Leave Aug. 25

By Cody Lowe and Michael Sluss
Roanoke Times (Virginia)
November 6, 2002

The Rev. Steven "Randy" Rule was reinstated to the ministry Tuesday after an investigating team determined that "inappropriate" conduct 26 years ago did not warrant removing the former pastor of St. Andrew's Catholic Church.

Rule's supporters said the team's report amounts to a declaration of innocence of the sexual misconduct allegations that led to his suspension 10 weeks ago.

The Diocese of Richmond has a zero-tolerance policy on findings of sexual abuse of minors, said Karen Mabry, a longtime friend of Rule's. The only conclusion possible from the vaguely worded report is that "there absolutely was no abuse or misconduct," she said.

Rule was placed on administrative leave Aug. 25, a week before his nine-year tenure at St. Andrew's parish was to end.

An unidentified former student of St. John Vianney Seminary in Goochland County made an allegation of sexual misconduct that dated to 1976, when the student was a junior. Rule was a teacher and dean of students at the all-male high school, which prepared boys for the priesthood. The school closed in 1978.

A six-member review board determined that "the situation in which he [Rule] placed himself and the claimant was inappropriate and exceeded boundaries under the circumstances." But the board decided that Rule's behavior did not merit removal, said the Rev. Pasquale "Pat" Apuzzo, a diocesan spokesman.

Apuzzo declined to elaborate on the original allegation or the "inappropriate" behavior the panel described.

The diocese follows guidelines for dealing with sexual abuse allegations adopted in June by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Those call for the permanent removal of a priest "for even a single act of sexual abuse of a minor - past, present or future."

The guidelines define sexual abuse as any situation "when the child is being used as an object of sexual gratification for the adult."

They specify that the incident "need not be a complete act of intercourse" and does not have to involve genital or physical contact. The definition of abuse does not require force and applies even if the child initiated the contact or there is no "discernible harmful outcome."

Given the diocese's commitment to a zero-tolerance policy for child abusers, the decision to return Rule to active ministry "informs everyone of the board's conclusion," said Rule's attorney, John Lichtenstein.

"The diocese is following the recommendation for a full return to active ministry, and they can't do that if there is a problem," Lichtenstein said. "What they've done speaks volumes."

Rule accepted what Apuzzo described as a "transitional assignment" as an assistant pastor at Richmond's Church of the Epiphany. Before the allegation against him surfaced in August, Rule had been scheduled to replace Apuzzo at St. Gabriel's Catholic Church in Chesterfield County. That appointment remains on hold, Apuzzo said.

"This is a time for him to kind of re-enter back into the ministry, kind of get over the experience of the past two months and then go one step at a time," Apuzzo said.

Apuzzo said Bishop Walter Sullivan informed Rule of the review board's recommendation Monday. James Meath, the chairman of the review board, informed Rule's accuser of the panel's decision the same day, Apuzzo said.

Rule and his accuser cooperated with the review board, Apuzzo said, and both accepted its recommendation.

The accuser "said right from the start that he was not looking for Father Rule to be removed from the priesthood" but wanted the incident investigated, Apuzzo said. The accuser did not seek monetary damages.

Asked whether Rule would be tainted by the allegation and the finding of inappropriate behavior, Apuzzo said: "It is difficult to have your name all over everywhere and then have to come back. Yeah, that's hard."

The review board interviewed Rule and his accuser and also examined the climate that existed at St. John Vianney at the time Rule taught there, Apuzzo said.

Apuzzo described the 1960s and 1970s as an era in which the environment in seminary schools evolved from one of strict discipline into one of openness and friendliness between priests and students, Apuzzo said.

"It seems that, in certain cases, they got too chummy with each other," Apuzzo said.

Rule's tenure at St. John Vianney coincided with that of the Rev. John E. Leonard, who was the principal, and the Rev. Julian B. Goodman, another faculty member. Leonard and Goodman have been accused of sexual misconduct while at the school.

Goodman admitted that he sexually abused student James Kronzer from 1976 to 1978. Goodman was barred from public ministry by the diocese.

Leonard was accused of abusing students at the school and is being investigated by the Goochland County commonwealth's attorney's office. Leonard denied any wrongdoing and was returned to his pulpit after being exonerated by the diocese.

For parishioners at St. Andrew's, Rule's reinstatement is cause for celebration.

The church has rescheduled the farewell parties it had planned for Rule the week he was suspended. There will be a reception honoring him Nov. 16 after the 5:30 p.m. Mass; another will be held Nov. 17 after the 11 a.m. Mass.

Rule declined to be interviewed Tuesday, but Lichtenstein released a statement saying Rule is "deeply appreciative of the literally hundreds if not thousands of expressions of support he has received from those he has served through his 27 years of ministry.

"This entire process has been intensely traumatic. But Father Rule's faith in God and what he knew to be true in his heart gave him a certain and durable peace through this difficult experience."

 
 

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