Diocese Asks Priest to Admit Hiring Error

By Susan Hogan
The Dallas Morning News [Arlington TX]
July 1, 2004

The pastor of St. Mary the Virgin Catholic Church in Arlington has been asked by diocesan officials to tell weekend worshippers that he made a mistake in allowing a Pennsylvania priest accused of sexual abuse to assist at worship over the last year, an official of the Fort Worth Diocese said Thursday.

The unusual action came after an e-mail was sent to church members, apparently by the pastor, the Rev. Allan Hawkins, saying he planned to defend his actions during weekend Masses. The e-mail said Father Hawkins had been assured by officials from the Diocese of Scranton, Pa., that the Rev. Christopher Clay's suspension from ministry had been lifted last year.

The Scranton Diocese said Thursday said that Father Clay remains "removed from active ministry without faculties as a priest" because of an ongoing ecclesial investigation. The Fort Worth Diocese banned Father Clay from ministry Tuesday after learning he'd been assisting in Mass at the Arlington church.

Neither Father Hawkins nor Father Clay, who lives in Dallas, has responded to repeated interview requests.

"Father Hawkins claims he was working in good conscience and was told by the former Scranton bishop that Father Clay had been cleared," said the Rev. Robert Wilson, the Fort Worth Diocese's chancellor. "But he was supposed to seek permission from us."

The Scranton Diocese said Father Clay was removed from ministry in 2002 after an abuse allegation was made by a male teen. In February, the priest was given a parish assignment in Pennsylvania, but it was withdrawn within 48 hours, the diocese said.

Documents provided by Father Clay's attorney indicate that the priest wanted a leave of absence to attend to health concerns.