Accused Priest LED Mass FW Diocese Bans Him from Ministry after Link to Sex Abuse Is Disclosed

By Susan Hogan
Dallas Morning News
June 30, 2004

A Catholic priest removed from ministry in Pennsylvania because of sexual abuse allegations has been living in Dallas and leading Mass at an Arlington parish for at least a year.

Officials of the Diocese of Fort Worth, which encompasses Arlington, said they didn't know about the Rev. Christopher Clay's activities at St. Mary the Virgin Catholic Church until contacted this week by The Dallas Morning News. On Tuesday the diocese's chancellor, the Rev. Robert Wilson, banned Father Clay from further ministry.

"He did this without our knowledge or approval," Father Wilson said.

Father Clay didn't respond to an interview request. No one answered the door of his Oak Cliff apartment.

The priest has not been accused of wrongdoing in Texas. The Diocese of Scranton, Pa., said he remains under investigation there. He was placed on leave two years ago after an allegation of abuse was made by a man in his 20s who said he'd been molested as a teen.

Father Clay apparently had been leading Masses at St. Mary the Virgin at the invitation of the Arlington parish's pastor, the Rev. Allan Hawkins. Diocesan officials said Father Hawkins never sought permission from them, as required by church rules. Father Hawkins did not respond to interview requests.

David Clohessy of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said many priests removed from ministry under the 2002 sexual abuse charter adopted by U.S. bishops continue to find their way into ministry because of leaders who skirt proper channels.

Officials of the Dallas Diocese said they hadn't heard of Father Clay. They added that he would not be allowed to participate in any ministry in the diocese.

His background in Pennsylvania came to light locally through Rachel Dillard of Dallas, who said she went to Father Clay this month for instruction because she hoped to become a Catholic.

She said she conducted an Internet search on the priest out of curiosity and was stunned to learn about the abuse allegation.

"He had told me he left Pennsylvania because of a dispute with a conservative faction," she said. "He felt they were obsessed with matters of sex."

James Early, chancellor of the Scranton Diocese, said Father Clay had told him he had a job in Texas reviewing medical insurance claims.

"He should not be functioning in any capacity as a priest," Mr. Early said.

Last month, the Vatican authorized an ecclesiastical judicial process against Father Clay and two other priests accused of molesting the young man, now 23, according to a document obtained by The News. He could be permanently defrocked.

Father Clay, who has maintained his innocence to Pennsylvania authorities, was never sued or charged with a crime. But the other two priests who were implicated are defendants in a lawsuit in Pennsylvania.

In a deposition, the young man said of Father Clay: "He proceeded to get me roaring drunk. I remember throwing up in his room all over myself and him taking me into the next room and undressing me and then I woke up naked the next morning."

James Bendell, the accuser's attorney, said Father Clay was not named as a defendant because the case against the other two priests was much stronger and involved "several overt acts of molestation."

Asked whether Father Clay belonged in ministry, the lawyer said: "No. Not only no, but hell no."

Members of St. Mary's described Father Clay as a dynamic speaker with a keen intellect.

"He's excellent with the young people," Terry Southard said. "They feel like they can talk with him."


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