Priest Leaves St. Sebastian
Allegations of Past Sexual Misconduct Lead to Departure

By Andy Hill
Ironwood MI Daily Globe
June 17, 2002

BESSEMER For the second time in less than three months, St. Sebastian Church finds itself without a permanent priest.

On Saturday, members of the parish were told that their priest, the Rev. Guy Thoren, had been placed on leave of absence from active ministry following a recent, substantiated allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor. The event dates from more than 25 years ago, the diocese said.

Father Thoren had served St. Sebastian for less than two weeks. The church has 342 registered families, according to a spokesman, equating to something around 1,000 baptized people.

The change came as America's' bishops departed from a Dallas- meeting during which a clerical sex abuse policy was adopted. That policy will give rank-and-file Roman Catholics an unprecedented role in policing the church.

Critics of the plan call for the automatic ouster of abusive priests and want lay people to have an even greater say in church decisions.

During the weekend of April 6, the St. Sebastian- parish was stunned by a similar announcement.

Members were told the Rev. Joseph D. Carne had resigned as pastor of St. Sebastian and been placed on health leave from active ministry after an allegation of sexual misconduct under church law.

"These actions follow an allegation of sexual activity arising from the early years of Father Carne's service as a priest" said an earlier diocesan press release.

"The factual content of the allegation indicates that the alleged activity was not criminal under civil law, but is considered sexual misconduct under Church law."

"The allegation against Father Thoren was made following his June 1 appointment as pastor of the Bessemer parish," the diocese said today. "The diocese has received no other allegations against Father Thoren."

As it did in April, the diocese had officials on hand at weekend Masses at St. Sebastian to inform the parishioners of the bishop's decision and provide pastoral care.

The news was greeted by tears from many longtime members of the parish, said a church member who declined to be identified. Several members of the congregation expressed the idea that they would no longer be able to maintain church membership. He said members of Thoren's last parish felt he had done an outstanding job there.

The spokesman for the diocese told the parishioners they had not heard the allegation against Father Thoren until 10 days earlier, just after he had been assigned to St. Sebastian.

Thoren previously served as pastor of St. Louis the King Parish, Harvey, and before that as pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, L'Anse. The member of those parishes were informed of the allegations this weekend and the diocese extended pastoral care to the people of the two parishes.

The diocese also has extended an offer of pastoral care to the person bringing the allegation.

In April, Bishop James Garland appointed Father Ray Moncher, a senior priest of the diocese, as temporary administrator of St. Sebastian Parish. Another senior priest, Father Louis Bracket, provided temporary sacramental ministry to the Parish.

The Rev. Jim Roetzer, who has been serving as associate pastor Our Lady of Peace Church, Ironwood, has been named temporary administrator at St. Sebastian.

"Father Jim is saying Mass right now," said the voice at the other end of the telephone line at St. Sebastian this morning.

In other words, despite several fairly rapid changes in priestly presence at the Bessemer parish, ministry in word and sacrament continues unbroken.

"I'm a temporary administrator," Roetzer told the Daily Globe this morning. "There's no definite time period as to how long I will be here. ...

"Personally, I just hope to bring a sense of peace and a sense of unity to the parish, so that all people might be able to move beyond this past week and begin to grow more fully in the love for God, their love for each other and their love for the Church."

Fewer than 70 active priests serve the Diocese of Marquette, which has parishes in more than 60 Upper Michigan communities


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