Quiet Shock at St. Mary
Rev. Patrick Kalich Named Parish Administrator

By Jim Stinson
Post-Tribune (Merrillville, IN)
December 22, 2003

Early Sunday evening, St. Mary Catholic Church and its campus looked like a ghost town.

There were no lights inside the church, convent or school. A light could be seen inside the rectory, but no one answered the door. All was quiet, except for the cold wind that swept along Joliet Street.

Such was the scene one day after Bishop Dale J. Melczek told parishioners Saturday night that their priest, Msgr. Donald C. Grass, had been stripped of priestly duties and would no longer be presiding over the church.

Grass, 67, had admitted to church authorities that he had sexual relations with a minor at some time in the 1960s, said Brian Olszewski, communications director for the Catholic Diocese of Gary.

At theof Saturday night's Mass, after telling parishioners about Grass' defrocking, an impromptu question-and-answer session began between the bishop and church members. Early Sunday afternoon, the bishop spent more time with congregation members, Olszewski said.

The church serves about 1,775 families.

Olszewski said the bishop was meeting with seminarians on Sunday in New Chicago and would not be available for comment.

When contacted by the Post-Tribune, parishioners declined or did not comment. St. Mary Catholic Community School Principal Suzan LaPeer was not available for comment.

Olszewski said the matter came to light when the victim -- whose gender and age was not disclosed -- approached the diocese in late November. The diocese, which has had a public disclosure policy since 1993, immediately looked into the matter. Olszewski said the victim met with the diocese response team. Another meeting involved Melczek, the victim and Grass himself.

Grass, who had been the church leader since 1983 and a priest since 1961, stepped down Tuesday or Wednesday, Olszewski said, after admitting misconduct, which occurred at Gary's Holy Angels Cathedral more than 30 years ago. Church leaders gave no indication the misconduct was repeated.

Church officials said they did not know where Grass was staying. The church action forbids Grass from celebrating Mass publicly or from identifying himself as a priest.

The quick action was made despite the upcoming holiday and Grass' recent cancer diagnosis.

"He has been ill," said Olszewski. "He had undergone radiation and chemotherapy."

Olszewski said Melczek was saddened by the action taken.

"He is saddened for both the victim and the priest," said Olszewski. "The upside for (the bishop) is the healing process has begun."

Olszewski said the Rev. Patrick Kalich would administer the parish, which includes a convent and an elementary school.

It was the first such incident reported in the four-county diocese -- which includes Lake, Porter, LaPorte and Starke counties -- since the U.S. Catholic Church was rocked by a series of sexual scandals beginning about two years ago. In June 2002, U.S. bishops adopted new rules of disclosure similar to rules the Gary diocese already had, Olszewski said.

No other reports of sexual misconduct have warranted investigation so far, said Olszewski.

By the numbers

As of Nov. 3, lists more than 1,800 names of diocesan and order employees (the majority priests) who face allegations or legal action.

* Criminal conviction 281

* Civil settlement or judgment 249

* Pending criminal action 104

* Pending civil litigation 382

* Public allegations 826


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.
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