D'Arcy Admits Sex-Abuse Cases
Incidents with 17 Priests since 1950 Cost Diocese $1.3 Million, Bishop Says
By Kevin Leininger
Fort Wayne News Sentinel
December 11, 2003
Seventeen Catholic priests in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend have apparently abused 33 people sexually - almost all of them minors - since 1950, Bishop John M. D'Arcy said today.
Settling claims, paying legal fees and providing counseling to priests and their alleged victims cost the diocese about $1.3 million between 1985 and 2002, he said.
D'Arcy's unprecedented admissions came in a news conference in South Bend early today; a second one was scheduled for Fort Wayne later today. D'Arcy said he decided to go public with what is normally a very private subject because the church early next year will release reports detailing the scope and cost nationally of sexual abuse by priests.
D'Arcy said the 17 priests represent only about 2 percent of the 805 priests who have served the diocese since 1950, "but one is too many."
Although D'Arcy gained national attention for his efforts to alert church officials to sexual abuse while serving in Boston in the 1970s and early '80s, he said his appointment as bishop in 1985 apparently had nothing to do with the level of abuse in the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese. Nevertheless, D'Arcy said he found the level of alleged sexual abuse by the diocese's priests to be "fairly significant." Credible allegations of abuse were leveled by 15 accusers who said the alleged misconduct took place in the 1980s, the most of any decade since 1950.
D'Arcy said he dismissed 12 priests and said the 17 priests against whom credible allegations have been made are either dead or out of the priesthood. To his knowledge, the last incident involving physical contact occurred in 1987.
Many of the problems apparently happened during the tenure of D'Arcy's late predecessor, William McManus. "I can't speak for what happened then or for people who are now dead. I can only speak for myself," D'Arcy said.
* One of the allegedly abusive priests was the Rev. William J. Ehrman, who served at St. John the Baptist in New Haven between 1939 and 1964 and at St. Paul's in Fort Wayne from 1964 until retiring in 1970. He died in 1983.
Not long after The News-Sentinel reported in 2002 how Ehrman had allegedly molested Michele Bennett, a former New Haven resident now living in Michigan, D'Arcy attended Mass at St. John, saying her allegations were credible.
At least two other Fort Wayne women - Jane Schuckel and another woman who did not want to be identified - subsequently told The News-Sentinel they had been abused by Ehrman.
* At least one other former priest has made news because of sex-related allegations. E. Brian Carsten was a priest at St. Andrew and St. Hyacinth in Fort Wayne before leaving the Catholic Church to become an Episcopal priest in the Michigan City area. But he left the Episcopal Church in 1990 to be treated for "personal behavioral problems," according to the Michigan City Post-Dispatch. Episcopal Bishop Francis Gray at the time characterized as accurate two church members' claims Carsten had been forced to leave because of homosexual behavior, the newspaper reported.
Carsten today lives in Angola and serves as an archbishop with the Orthodox Catholic Church of America, which has no ties to the Roman Catholic Church. He could not be reached for comment.
D'Arcy has believed gay men should be prohibited from the priesthood because "most of the cases of abuse have involved men with teenage boys." In fact, he said, 12 of the priests were believed to have been involved with boys. Sixteen of the priests were allegedly involved with minors under 18.
"But (a) 17th case, by its nature, could also be considered abuse," D'Arcy said.
Two Catholic educators also have been removed because of inappropriate behavior. Accusations were made against another 11 priests that were later proved to be false or weren't considered credible.
D'Arcy said he met with seven victims and seven family members of victims. "I apologized in the name of Christ and in the name of the church and asked for forgiveness."
D'Arcy said not all the credible incidents reported would necessarily constitute crimes, but added the church has always complied with secular law when dealing with abuse cases. No abuse-related litigation is pending against the church, and he said he has never moved around priests to avoid claims.
The church's canon law in the past sometimes made it difficult to deal with allegedly abusive priests, D'Arcy said. The emphasis was often on priests' rights and forgiveness, "but I wanted to get them away from children."
The number of abuse allegations has dropped in recent years, he said, because the diocese instituted tougher screening procedures for men interested in the priesthood.
Dr. Susan Steibe-Pasalich, director of counseling at the University of Notre Dame, administers psychological tests to applicants. Fifty-seven men have applied in the last 10 years, she said, but only 29 have received unconditionally positive recommendations. The rest were rejected outright or told to deal with personal issues before reapplying.
Steibe-Pasalich said reasons for rejection include the presence of unresolved emotional problems, psycho-sexual problems and difficulty forming relationships or adjusting to celibacy.
Even those who are recommended do not necessarily enter the seminary. D'Arcy said he received the names of five applicants last year but accepted only three.
In part because of the tougher standards, the number of the diocese's priests has dropped from about 120 when D'Arcy arrived to about 90 now.
D'Arcy said money used by the diocese for claims or counseling has not come from parish funds or donations to the annual bishop's appeal. Insurance paid $527,822 in expenses. Other funds came from reserves and investments.
Despite the admissions, D'Arcy said the diocese has been blessed because it took tough action early on to deal with abusive priests.
"I've always thought the priesthood was the most noble profession," he said. "Most are good, chaste and pure of heart. I've been a priest for 46 years, and I'm convinced we are preparing for the best time for the priesthood."
Schuckel, who said Ehrman exposed himself to her in '68 when she was 19, said she's glad "the church is taking steps to give people like me some credibility. But I think they should have called (she came forward more than a year ago) to ask how I was doing and how I felt. That's a little disconcerting. But I did get free counseling, and that's really all I asked for. I just needed validation of what happened. I've put it all behind me."
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