Bishop Accountability
  Removing Priests Might Take Years

By Todd Ruger
Quad-City Times
July 1, 2004

The Catholic Diocese of Davenport’s requests to defrock five priests have been sent to the Vatican, but they might be at just the start of a lengthy process, statements by diocese officials indicate.

The Davenport Diocese said it removed five priests — James Janssen, Francis Bass, Frank R. Martinez Jr., Richard Poster and William F. Wiebler — from the ministry and mailed requests to the Vatican in the past two weeks to have them defrocked for sexual misconduct.

But Archbishop Sean P. O’Malley of Boston, where about 30 priests have been removed from the ministry since the abuse scandal erupted in January 2002, expressed frustration Tuesday with the slow pace of Vatican officials in terms of handling the cases of about two dozen Boston-area priests accused of sexual abuse.

That means it could be years before the Davenport Diocese hears back on its requests, said David Clohessy, the executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP.

Davenport Diocese attorney Rand Wonio said the diocese does not know how long the process might take because it has not made the requests before.

“When (Bishop William) Franklin sent them in, he requested the Vatican, on at least some of them, go ahead and do this in expedited, summary fashion,” Wonio added.

Some requests contained information about offenses egregious enough to perhaps warrant defrocking without going through full church law procedures, he said.

“We certainly hope it happens earlier than later,” he said.

O’Malley said he planned to meet with Vatican officials to express his worries and urge the Vatican to allow American canon lawyers to help move cases along.

Franklin and bishops of other dioceses do not have the authority to defrock a priest on their own, church officials said.

Defrocking, or removing the men from the priesthood, is the most severe penalty that can be inflicted on a priest, diocese officials said.

While it is not clear how many cases are pending before the Vatican, Bishop Wilton Gregory, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in January that abuse allegations have resulted in about 700 priests and deacons nationwide being temporarily removed from the ministry in the past two years.

Janssen, Bass and Wiebler have been named as defendants in sexual abuse lawsuits against the diocese, and Poster is serving a federal prison sentence for possessing child pornography on a diocese computer during December 2002.

In 1986, Martinez appeared to initiate sexual activity with a minor who fled and sought help, according to the diocese. He has been on leave for personal reasons since 1987.

The diocese worked on the requests to defrock those priests for nearly four months after Franklin announced the Diocesan Review Board recommendations to do so.

(The Associated Press contributed to this article.)


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