Diocese Earns Praise for Help in Abuse Case

Associated Press, carried in Billings Gazette [Cheyenne WO]
Downloaded April 28, 2004

CHEYENNE, Wyo. - When Father Michael Carr received a phone call last July from a man making serious allegations against a former Wyoming priest, there was no hesitation on what to do next.

As soon as the call was finished, Carr notified authorities of the charge, which would eventually put Father Anthony Jablonowski behind bars.

"I was very pleased with the way they handled it," Platte County Attorney Eric Alden said of Roman Catholic officials.

"They didn't try to hide something. They didn't try to keep something, deal with it in-house rather than disclose it. They identified it as criminal conduct that needed to be turned over to appropriate authorities and they did so immediately."

The church has been rocked in recent years by revelations that hundreds of priests have sexually abused parishioners and that leaders often shifted abusive priests to different parishes after the assaults.

But the Diocese of Cheyenne, which guides activities for Catholics in Wyoming, fully assisted the state Division of Criminal Investigation, Alden said.

When the diocese first received word a year ago of secret rituals in which male parishioners were stripped, strung upside down and flogged in the basement of St. Anthony Catholic Church in the small southeast Wyoming town of Guernsey in the 1980s, authorities were notified within days.

The diocese also published a notice in its newsletter to determine if anyone else had been hurt. A man who had no connection to the rituals stepped forward and alleged that Father Tony had molested him as a teenager.

"When we heard that, I think almost immediately within the same day, we notified DCI," said Carr, pastor of St. Anthony's Catholic Church in Casper and vicar general for the diocese, second in command behind Bishop David Ricken. "We might have gotten another thing or two, and we always shared that with them."

Eventually, other men confirmed the stories of the rituals - some defending them - but at least three said the practices were sexual, not religious.

Jablonowski, who had been living in a monastery in Waterford, Ohio, entered a no contest plea April 15 to taking indecent liberties with the teenager in exchange for sexual abuse charges not being filed related to the rituals. He was given up to seven years in prison but could be released in a year with good behavior.

Susan Archibald, who founded a retreat for molestation victims near Louisville, Ky., has noticed quicker response by church officials nationwide.

"The church has faced tremendous liability, financial liability, so the response has very much do to financial concerns," she said.

David Clohessy, national director of the Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said Catholic leaders have "very belatedly and very begrudgingly" started removing known and suspected molesters more promptly.

"But only because of tremendous external pressure, and they continue to follow by and large a very bare minimum approach," he said.

Ricken said the Cheyenne diocese in 1993 became one of the first in the nation to appoint a review board and three years ago began requiring criminal background checks not only for priests, deacons and employees but volunteers who regularly work with children.

The practices were in place before American bishops crafted a national sexual abuse charter in 2002.

"We did modify our policy a little, but we've had a long-standing procedure that had us doing this anyway," Carr said. "We think we had a good policy in place and that it is working."

He said the first victim in the Guernsey rituals to come forward complimented the diocese for its handling of the matter.

At a service in Guernsey on Sunday evening, Ricken said the penitential practices by Jablonowski are not sanctioned by the church.


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