Ex-Bishop: Priest OK'd for Duty:
No Abuse Charges Were Filed against Christopher Clay, So Former Bishop Timlin Was Set to Give Him a Church. Clay Went to Texas Instead

By Bonnie Adams and Mark Guydish
Times Leader [Pennsylvania]
July 2, 2004

Bishop James Timlin and others say the Rev. Christopher Clay was entitled to resume ministerial duties when no criminal charges resulted from a young man's accusations against him.

The former Diocese of Scranton bishop said he offered Clay local parish work in 2003 after a police investigation yielded no charges.

But that word apparently hasn't reached the Diocese of Forth Worth in Texas, where Clay this week was barred from saying Mass because church officials say they have no proof he's in good standing.

Clay until recently assisted his close friend, the Rev. Allan Hawkins, at St. Mary the Virgin Church in Arlington, Texas. In reaction to a Dallas Morning News article, Hawkins distributed a letter to his parishioners Wednesday.

Hawkins said he had contacted Timlin in 2003 "to make sure that there was no objection to my inviting Father Clay to assist us at St. Mary the Virgin." Timlin confirmed Thursday that he had no objections.

Diocese of Scranton spokeswoman Maria Orzel said this week that Clay was removed from active ministry after his name surfaced during an investigation into an allegation against two priests at the Society of St. John in Pike County.

Since February 2003, she said, Clay has been on leave from all ministerial activity in the diocese. She said the internal investigation is ongoing. Orzel could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Hawkins said in the letter that current Bishop Joseph Martino wrote to Clay in April to ask him of his "intentions regarding your future ministry." Hawkins said the inquiry would be absurd if Clay was under suspension.

Clay had been removed from his teaching job at Bishop Hafey High School in Hazle Township in 2002 after a young man made sexual misconduct allegations related to the facility in Monroe County. The accusations came during a deposition for a federal lawsuit against two other diocese priests.

Timlin said Thursday that the diocese felt it was unfair to prohibit Clay from resuming ministerial duties after police did not file charges. The young man who made the accusations has not sued Clay.

The bishop said he did not feel that the 2002 U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops policy applied to Clay once no criminal charges resulted. Church policy dictates that when sexual abuse is admitted or proven, a priest must be permanently removed from the ministry regardless of when the incident occurred.

"I was ready to assign him," Timlin said. The bishop offered Clay a position at St. Thomas More parish in Lake Ariel, Wayne County. By then, Clay had traveled to his home state of Texas to rest.

"Clay, who had been under a lot of stress, responded to Timlin that he was still suffering from some anxiety," said Clay's attorney, Greg Magarity, on Thursday. Magarity said Clay told Timlin in March 2003 that he wasn't ready to return to ministerial work.

Magarity remembers someone in a district attorney's office saying the statute of limitations had run out, which would have ended the investigation. Former Monroe County District Attorney Mark Pazuhanich had said in May 2002 that an investigation was ongoing.

But current Monroe County District Attorney E. David Christine Jr. said this week that the file Pazuhanich requested police send directly to Pazuhanich was missing and Christine's office had no knowledge of an investigation of Clay.

"I'm very sensitive to the victims in this case but I don't know that Clay's getting a fair shot here," Magarity said. "(Clay is) obviously not under restrictive ministry or they wouldn't ask him to take an assignment as assistant pastor."

Magarity said he has had trouble dealing with the Diocese of Scranton and getting information from officials about Clay's status.

Bonnie Adams, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 829-7241.