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  3 Priests Who Face Trials Identified
2 Are Now on Leave; 3rd Is Inactive Cleric

By Martha Carr
The Times-Picayune [New Orleans, LA]
October 13, 2004

In a sharp reversal, the Archdiocese of New Orleans announced Tuesday the names of three local priests whom the Vatican has ordered to stand trial on sex abuse charges.

The Revs. Michael Fraser, Gerard Kinane and Bernard Schmaltz are expected to undergo secret church trials in the coming months to determine the validity of charges that they molested boys while acting as priests.

Fraser, of Visitation of Our Lady Church in Marrero, and Kinane, of St. Luke Church in Slidell, were placed on leave earlier this year after the archdiocese revealed the accusations.

Schmaltz, who last served at St. Clement of Rome in Metairie, had already left the priesthood when the most recent sex abuse claim was lodged in January. He stopped working as a priest in 1993 to devote himself full time to fending off a molestation lawsuit. Though still technically a priest, he now works as a real estate agent in Pass Christian, Miss.

Archdiocesan spokesman the Rev. William Maestri said he "misspoke" last week when he said Archbishop Alfred Hughes would not release the identities of the priests for fear that such a disclosure could compromise the rights of the accused and the complainants.

On Tuesday, Maestri said it was always Hughes' intention to reveal their names.

"I misspoke about not making known the names of the people involved," Maestri said. "I should have checked with the archbishop, and I did not."

Fraser and Schmaltz have denied wrongdoing. Past attempts to reach Kinane were unsuccessful.

Limited church penalties

Unlike criminal trials, which can result in imprisonment, or civil trials, which can lead to the payment of large monetary awards, the severest penalty in a church trial is the defrocking of a priest. If found innocent, a cleric can be returned to full priestly duties.

Maestri said he was uncertain of what other actions could be ordered by the church court, including whether guilty priests can be made to relinquish benefits, pay restitution to victims, or issue an apology. The trials will be the first to be held locally since the sex abuse controversy broke nationwide in 2002.

For many victims, news of the trials does little to sustain their hopes that justice will be served.

"They keep saying things about transparency. Then they come back with these secret trials and these unnamed canon lawyers who are going to conduct these things," said Jim Johnson, whose son Robert said he was abused by Fraser in the early 1990s and has since settled a civil case with the archdiocese. "My greatest fear is that they are going to reinstate this guy."

A representative for at least one of the accused priests also said he thinks the trials are a sham and will advise his client not to cooperate.

"They can have their secret trial if that's what they want to do, but he's not going to participate," said Arthur "Buddy" Lemann, who is representing Schmaltz in a defamation case against Hughes. "The archbishop has everything ass-backward. When he walked out of the sacristy and into the newsroom, he subjected himself to Caesar's courts, not some secret tribunal into the catacombs of the cathedral. He can't publicly defame someone and say he's gonna give him a secret trial."

Trials to be held locally

Also Tuesday, Maestri changed his statements regarding what the church will disclose after the trials are complete. Last week Maestri said officials would decide what to release on "a case-by-case basis depending upon the judgment of the archdiocese on the need to know." On Tuesday, he said the archdiocese will announce the results of each trial after all appeals are exhausted.

The church trials will be held locally before a panel of three out-of-state canon lawyers who will render a judgment, Maestri said. Unlike other church cases, parties to the sex abuse trials will not be allowed to appeal rulings to a court of second review, but must do so directly to the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith in Rome, he said. After a decision is rendered from the Vatican, it is final.

Thus far, the archdiocese has forwarded to the Vatican all the sex abuse allegations that have been reported since the bishops adopted new procedures for handling sex abuse cases in June 2002, Maestri said. Three were returned for trial. A fourth, involving the Rev. Pat Sanders, was sent back to Hughes for an administrative hearing.

Sanders was stripped of his priestly duties in April after two men accused him of sexually abusing them during a 1993 outing to Biloxi, Miss. At the time, Sanders was serving as assistant to the pastor at Resurrection of Our Lord Parish in eastern New Orleans.

Sanders is technically not charged with abuse of a minor because church law at the time placed the age of majority at 16, and both of his accusers were older than that at the time, Maestri said. The church shortly thereafter raised the age of majority to 18.

As for charges that were lodged before the adoption of the 2003 procedures, those are, or have been, handled locally by the archbishop, Maestri said.

The archdiocese has said two deacons and eight diocesan priests have been credibly accused since 1950. Some have never been identified; others have been removed from duty, and at least one has died.

2 faced past complaints

Fraser and Schmaltz took center stage in January, when the archdiocese announced it had a new set of allegations involving young boys. Both had been the subject of past abuse complaints.

Fraser, who was working as a priest at Visitation of Our Lady Church, was placed on leave and forbidden to function as a priest after being accused of sexually abusing a child in the mid-1980s. At the time, he was serving at Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Pearl River, Maestri said.

Fraser had been allowed to remain in ministry despite a civil lawsuit that Robert Johnson had filed claiming he was molested in the early 1990s. Johnson's father, who is still racked with guilt over what happened to his son, fought back tears Tuesday in recalling the family's years of battling to get Fraser removed from ministry.

"The only reason they finally removed this guy is because another man came forward," Jim Johnson said. "I have no faith in Archbishop Hughes if he is making this decision. He has shown over and over again that he is more interested in protecting the Catholic Church than its victims."

Schmaltz, who works as a real estate agent in Mississippi, was also accused this year of sexual abuse involving a 7-year-old boy in the mid-1970s while he served at St. Clement of Rome in Metairie.

In 1993, Schmaltz had resigned as pastor of St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish in Gentilly Woods to fight a civil charge alleging the molestation of a 13-year-old boy during the 1973-74 school year, also at St. Clement. He was supported by the church parish council and then-Archbishop Francis Schulte, who said he believed in Schmaltz's innocence. Two years later a court ruled that the civil complaint had been lodged too late to go to trial. Schmaltz, however, never returned to ministry.

He said doing so would have required standing trial in a church court, which would have heard his accuser's story. He also said his attorney advised against it because a civil judge had already given him a measure of victory in the case by pronouncing the accuser's recovered memory as unreliable. Besides, Schmaltz said, he had come to believe his ministry could never recover from the allegation.

Lemann, Schmaltz's attorney, said that after going public with the most recent allegations, the church can do little else to punish his client other than revoke Schmaltz's retirement benefits.

"They can say he's got to say five 'Hail Marys' and five 'Our Fathers,' or that he can't wear a vestment anymore, but he's not wearing a vestment anyway," Lemann said. "I guess they can sentence him to purgatory."

Kinane was also yanked from ministry in March, after an unidentified man said he was sexually abused as a 14-year-old in two incidents from 1973 to 1975. At the time, Kinane was associate pastor at St. Mark Catholic Church in Chalmette. Kinane was serving at St. Luke Catholic Church in Slidell when he was removed from ministry.

In all three priests' cases, the archdiocese forwarded relevant information to local authorities, but no known criminal charges have been filed. Oftentimes when abuse allegations surface years after the fact, which often occurs in church cases, prosecutors are unable to bring charges because of statutes of limitations.

 
 

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