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  Diocese Reveals History of Abuse
Mandated Investigation Shows 13 Complaints Alleged against Seven Priests That Served Region

By Carole Carlson
Post-Tribune (Merrillville, IN)
January 3, 2004

Since 1957, 13 people have alleged sexual abuse as children by seven priests serving the Diocese of Gary, Bishop Dale J. Melczek said Friday.

Six of the complaints were made against three diocesan priests. Five complaints were made against two priests who served the diocese but worked for religious orders.

The diocesan response team dismissed two of the allegations against two priests as not being credible.

The Gary Diocese was the fourth in Indiana to report sexual abuse charges from the 1950s. Last year, Melczek said in a Post-Tribune interview that there may have been as many as five priests involved in sexual misconduct with children.

Friday's findings were part of two reports required of dioceses across the country in response to the priest pedophilia scandal that has rocked the Roman Catholic Church. Details of the nationwide study, which will include the Gary Diocese, will be released Feb. 27.

The three diocesan priests accused have died. Allegations against two priests were found credible and the third wasn't investigated.

Melczek removed one of the priests from the ministry in the early 1990s when an allegation was proven.

That priest was retired at the time of the allegation and died soon afterward, Melczek said.

"He was not allowed to say Mass publicly or give the sacraments. There was a preponderance of evidence."

Allegations against the third priest weren't fully investigated because the accuser expressed having "a heavy heart" to the bishop and was satisfied with that.

Since the accusations were made, the four-county diocese of 186,000 Catholics has spent about $60,000 for counseling services for the victims, Melczek said.

"Our numbers seem very miniscule," said Melczek. "I hope it's not because of underreporting, but who knows."

The Friday news release covered the mandated audit of allegations reported between 2002 and 2003. No allegations were found for that period. The news release also addressed a different study of allegations going back to 1957.

Neither included the recent case of Monsignor Donald Grass of St. Mary Church in Crown Point. He was removed from the ministry last month by Melczek after Grass admitted to sexual misconduct with a minor during the 1960s while he was assigned to Holy Angels Cathedral in Gary.

After Grass admitted to the charge, Melczek held a news conference and met with members of the Crown Point church during several Masses. He pledged to continue that practice if future charges are proven against other priests or lay members of the church.

"We say we're going to be transparent," said Melczek. "What we're not going to do is quietly retire somebody. Once it's determined, or a priest admits to it, we would be public about it."

Unlike Bishop John M. D'Arcy of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese, Melczek did not make a formal statement outlining the specific abuse incidences like D'Arcy did on his diocesan Web page. Instead on Friday, the Gary Diocese sent out a news release, and Melczek answered reporters' questions afterward.

"Other dioceses are releasing them. We figured we'd get it out now," said Melczek.

"I certainly apologize for myself and the church for the anguish it has caused the victims," Melczek told The Associated Press. "I deeply regret this tragedy in terms of the enormous costs to the victims as well as the scandal to the church."

Melczek said the 13 people who made the allegations against seven priests since 1957 were minors at the time of the alleged abuse.

Melczek refused to identify the priests or the parishes, although he said the diocese hasn't entered into any confidentiality agreements since 1957.

As for the two priests who served the Gary Diocese but reported to other religious authorities outside the diocese, Melczek said one is presently out of the country. The diocese didn't investigate those allegation, and instead reported them to the religious orders that oversee the priests to determine if they are credible, he said.

The publicizing of the reports is part of a national audit and study authorized by the U.S. Bishops National Review Board in response to the priest pedophilia scandal that has rocked the Roman Catholic Church.

None of the accused local priests have been charged criminally. Melczek said he believes the statute of limitations has expired in all the cases.

Diocesan spokesman Brian Olszewski said no abuse lawsuits have been filed against the diocese.

Melczek said the diocese likely would have to conduct an audit of its practices and programs involving victims of abuse every two years. The Gary Diocese was found to be in compliance with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in the audit findings released Friday. The charter was mandated in 2002 by the U.S. Conference of Bishops.

Nationwide audit findings will be released Tuesday.

 
 

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