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  Priest on Leave after He's Again Accused
The New Hope Pastor Faced Allegations in March of Abusing a Minor in the 1960s There Are More Complaints

By Jim Remsen
Philadelphia Inquirer
June 16, 2004

A Roman Catholic priest who kept his Bucks County pulpit - and the church's staunch support - after being accused of sex abuse in March has since gone on indefinite leave after new allegations were made against him.

The Rev. John P. Schmeer, 69, took leave last month as pastor of St. Martin of Tours Church in New Hope. He had been the only priest in active ministry of the dozen accused in a recent wave of civil lawsuits filed by alleged sex-abuse victims against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Schmeer "made a quiet exit" from St. Martin after Mass on May 23 and is living in another, unspecified church facility while the archdiocese investigates the fresh complaints, archdiocese spokeswoman Catherine L. Rossi said yesterday.

Rossi said the archdiocese's sex-abuse review board, which exonerated Schmeer previously, has begun investigating the latest accusations. She would not divulge the number of new accusations but said they had been made since a lawsuit naming Schmeer was reported in March.

The archdiocese reported the fresh complaints to "public authorities," Rossi said. She declined to elaborate, and would not say whether the cases had been forwarded to the Philadelphia grand jury that has been investigating the clergy-abuse scandal here for more than two years.

Schmeer was not suspended, a step the church has made in other cases once it deems complaints against priests to be credible. The archdiocese, in a statement, said Schmeer agreed to relinquish his duties pending the church probe.

He retains his status as St. Martin's pastor but will not celebrate public Mass or perform other pastoral work. The archdiocese appointed as interim administrator the Rev. Frederick Kindon, who had been associate pastor at St. Bernard's Church in Mayfair, Northeast Philadelphia.

Popular with St. Martin's parishioners, Schmeer generated a groundswell of support after denying the initial accusation against him in March. Most members of the 1,100-family parish remain behind him despite the new allegations, parishioner Henry Cerwinski of Solebury said yesterday.

"If he had done it, he would say he had done it," Cerwinski said. "That's the kind of person he is."

In a batch of suits filed March 24 against the archdiocese, six plaintiffs accused four priests and a nun of molesting them years ago, when they were minors.

Schmeer's accuser was a 51-year-old Drexel Hill man identified in court papers as C.T.G. The man said Schmeer molested him in the late 1960s, when Schmeer was his counselor at Roman Catholic High School in Philadelphia.

According to the suit, which has not been scheduled for trial, Schmeer fondled the young C.T.G. at Roman, in the pool at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, and elsewhere. The suit says Schmeer had an accomplice, the Rev. Ernest A. Durante, a baseball coach at Roman who left the priesthood in 1986.

The plaintiff said Schmeer paraded him around the hallways at Roman and touched him inappropriately in front of other students. Eventually, the man said, he was raped at the school by other students "who believed that he was a homosexual as a result of the . . . conduct of Father Schmeer."

The plaintiff said that he told Schmeer of the rapes and that Schmeer refused to intervene or alert authorities. As a result, he said, he dropped out of Roman.

In a statement issued March 24, the archdiocese said it first received allegations against Schmeer in March 2002. The statement said that Schmeer "fully cooperated" with archdiocese investigators and that the review board concluded in November that the accusations were not credible.

After the suit was filed, parishioners rallied round Schmeer, who has been St. Martin's pastor since 1990. At a crowded Sunday Mass, Schmeer denied the charges and received a standing ovation when he said he would not be taking a leave.

At the end of that service, 20 parishioners went forward to pledge their support. Their spokesman, Tom Nowakowski, called the allegations "slanderous accusations meant to destroy the reputation of a wonderful, loving, caring pastor."

Cerwinski said parishioners found out about the new accusations from an archdiocese representative. He said the school also addressed the report in a letter to parents.

Some remain so staunchly in Schmeer's corner that they are raising money for a possible defamation countersuit against Jay N. Abramowitch, the Berks County lawyer who filed the March lawsuit.

Kindon, the interim administrator, declined to comment.

 
 

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