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  Pastor Accused of Sex Abuse Agrees to Quit the Clergy
Bishop Had Sought Pickerington Priest's Ouster

By Dennis M. Mahoney
Columbus Dispatch [Ohio]
January 28, 2004

The Rev. Martin Weithman, accused of sexually abusing a teenage boy in the late 1980s, has agreed to seek removal from the Roman Catholic priesthood.

Robin Miller, spokeswoman for the Columbus Catholic Diocese, said yesterday that Weithman and Bishop James A. Griffin had agreed that the former pastor of Seton Parish in Pickerington would ask the Vatican for laicization, as the process is known.

Griffin, acting on the recommendation of the Diocesan Review Board established to review clergy sex-abuse cases, previously had requested that the Vatican laicize Weithman and two other priests who had not sought removal voluntarily.

As a result of the agreement, Miller said, Weithman no longer is considered to be on leave as Seton pastor. The Rev. James Klima, who was named parish administrator while Weithman's case was pending, has been named pastor, she said.

Griffin had no further comment, Miller said.

Dennis Palmer, the man who accused Weithman of molesting him, said last night from his suburban Cleveland home that he was surprised the priest was ending his fight.

"I think the bishop did the right thing at the end in making the decision that he made," Palmer said. "I guess this brings it to full closure."

Weithman, 49, has never publicly commented on Palmer's allegation.

But the attorney who negotiated the settlement with the diocese for Weithman, John Marshall of Columbus, said the priest continues to maintain his innocence.

Marshall said Weithman still considers himself to be Seton pastor, and that Griffin acted prematurely in naming Klima.

Asked why Weithman was voluntarily seeking laicization after resisting, the attorney cited only "the negotiated settlement agreement."

He characterized the deal as the "resolution of an employment dispute."

He said he could not comment as to whether the agreement included a monetary settlement; Dan Ritter, a diocesan attorney, said the same.

The diocese paid Palmer $115,000 in 2002 after he made the allegation against Weithman and threatened to sue. Griffin said then that the payment was made to avoid the expense of litigation.

Palmer, 33, said last night that he was not out to ruin Weithman, but wanted to ensure that he was removed from ministry.

"I don't think that, in my opinion, someone who manipulated me the way that he did, physically and mentally over the years, deserves to be in the position that he is in," he said.

Palmer said it does not surprise him that Weithman denies wrongdoing.

"He has maintained his innocence all the way throughout, and I don't ever expect him to change that, because in some of the counseling that I have gone through, they have explained to me that he might not think he did anything wrong," he said.

Palmer said the molestation began when he was a student at the former Wehrle High School and continued for several years.

Griffin also has asked the Vatican to laicize Monsignor Joseph Fete, who admitted molesting a teenage boy in the 1970s, and the Rev. Michael Ellifritz, who admitted having improper contact with a teenage boy in the 1980s. Both cases are pending in Rome.

The three cases were considered by the review board, which was set up under guidelines approved by U.S. bishops in the wake of the clergy sex-abuse scandal that rocked the church.

The guidelines call for removing abusive priests from ministry, and bishops can seek to have them expelled from the priesthood.

The guidelines forbid dioceses from entering into "confidentiality agreements" to keep details of settlements with abuse victims from becoming public, except in rare cases. It does not, however, cover settlements made with priests, such as in Weithman's case.

 
 

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