Central Missouri Priest Retires Rather Than Undergo More Treatment over 1997 Sex-Abuse Claims

Associated Press State & Local Wire
March 12, 2002

A pastor at a church near Columbia has retired instead of undergoing further evaluation ordered by the diocese over 1997 allegations that he sexually abused children while he was with a Rolla church, the Jefferson City Diocese said Monday.

The Rev. Don Wallace's departure from St. Joseph Catholic Church in 2,800-resident Fayette, about 25 miles northwest of Columbia, takes immediate effect, the diocese said in a statement.

Wallace, 66, ordained in 1962, stepped down on Friday, though the diocese deferred announcing the move until Monday so it could discuss the matter last weekend with the Fayette church's parishioners, diocese spokesman Mark Saucier said.

Monday's announcement was the latest involving the diocese, which last week revealed that two other priests have been removed because of past sexual-abuse claims involving children.

The diocese said Wallace was pastor of St. Patrick Church in Rolla when parents there alleged he made "boundary violations" with four children in October 1997.

The allegations came from boys whose approximate ages were 11 to 13, most of them altar boys, Sister Ethel Marie Biri, chancellor of the diocese, said Tuesday. The allegations involved inappropriate touching, she said.

"It would have been things like tucking in their shirts, patting them on the rear, things like that," Biri said. "I don't want to minimize an impact that something like that would have on someone who can't quite understand why Father's doing that.

"They weren't raped, but they were frightened and confused about it," she said.

Following the accusations, Wallace was sent for evaluation and treatment.

In June 1998, the diocese said, Wallace was assigned to hospital ministry in Columbia under another priest's supervision. He was assigned again in June 2000, this time to the St. Joseph parish in Fayette, continuing with hospital ministry part-time.

Biri said the diocese re-evaluated its policy on reassigning priests after revelations that the Boston diocese failed to remove 80 priests accused of sexually molesting children.

Jefferson City Diocese Bishop John Gaydos asked Wallace to undergo more evaluation, the diocese said. But Wallace, who had a heart attack last spring, "made a personal decision to retire rather than undergo further evaluation," the statement said.

Wallace continues treatment as an outpatient, the diocese said.

"To our knowledge, no new allegations have been made" against Wallace, the statement said, adding that Gaydos "assures that at this time no priest with substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of minors will be reassigned to a ministry in which they have contact with minors."

Monday's announcement came three days after the Rev. Anthony J. O'Connell resigned as bishop of the Diocese of Palm Beach, Fla., publicly admitting that 25 years ago he molested a teen-age seminary student. That student, Christopher Dixon, was paid $125,000 by the Jefferson City Diocese in a 1996 settlement.

Under that deal, Dixon promised not to pursue further claims against the diocese, O'Connell - now 63 - and two other priests. The diocese did not admit any wrongdoing.

O'Connell, 63, admitted Dixon's allegations dating to when O'Connell was rector at the St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Hannibal, where Dixon was a student. Dixon, now 40 and living in St. Louis, said the two touched inappropriately in bed after he sought out O'Connell for counseling. Dixon said the abuse began in 1977, when he was 15, and continued to 1980.

The other priests removed by the Jefferson City Diocese were the Rev. Manus Daly, who allegedly abused Dixon at the seminary, and the Rev. John Fischer, who allegedly began abusing Dixon at a Catholic school in Hannibal when he was 11. Daly was removed from a Marceline church last week, and Fischer was removed from the priesthood in 1993 after allegations involving other children.


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