Pastor Removed from Ministry

By Mary Beth Smetzer
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner [Fairbanks AK]
August 22, 2005

Catholic Bishop Donald Kettler announced Sunday he has removed the pastor of Immaculate Conception Church from ministry in the Fairbanks diocese following an investigation of sexual abuse allegations.

Kettler read a letter about the removal of the Rev. Richard L. McCaffrey to Immaculate Conception parishioners at both services Sunday morning. Priests around Fairbanks read the letter at other churches.

Donna Gavora, a 45-year member of Immaculate Conception and its organist, said Kettler's reading was followed by absolute silence in the church.

"It was a very sad moment. It was hard on people," Gavora said. "Some people are very upset. I am really disappointed, too."

Kettler did not return phone calls but has scheduled a news conference at 2 p.m. today. He said in the letter that he made the decision after reviewing the report of an investigation conducted by former Alaska State Trooper James McCann, which included testimony from McCaffrey.

"Due to the severity of the allegations and based upon the interviews and the credible evidence gained from the discovery process of the investigations, I have decided to remove Father McCaffrey from ministry in the Diocese of Fairbanks immediately," Kettler wrote.

One woman has filed sexual abuse lawsuits against McCaffrey. Kettler put McCaffrey on administrative leave in May in response to an allegation that he sexually abused a minor about 25 years ago.

McCann investigated three allegations of child sexual abuse in separate and unrelated incidents reported at various locations around the state, according to the letter. McCaffrey, who has a long history of ministry in Alaska, is now living with the Oregon Jesuit community in Portland and has been advised of Kettler's decision. The bishop also has notified McCaffrey's provincial and the Archdiocese of Portland.

As for any disciplinary action, Kettler stated, "The Jesuits have policies and procedures in place to determine what future actions will take place." Kettler wrote that he took the action in line with policies set forth by the United States Catholic Bishops Conference and the "Faithful Healing" policy of the diocese regarding prevention and responding to ministry-related child sexual abuse.

Earlier this month, a woman raised in Tununak, a village on Nelson Island, filed a civil lawsuit against McCaffrey, saying he molested her several times over a yearlong period in 1978 when she was 10 years old.

McCaffrey, 62, has been pastor at Immaculate Conception since 1998. He came to Alaska in 1967 as a Jesuit scholastic. He taught at the Copper Valley Catholic Mission School and returned to the state every summer until his ordination in 1973. He served at Fairbanks' Sacred Heart Cathedral from 1973-76 and in 1977 started ministering in villages on Nelson Island for one year, followed by two years serving in parishes in Hooper Bay and Scammon Bay. He served as Diocesan chancellor from 1981-85, oversaw the two-year building of the Kobuk Center in Fairbanks and spent the following decade as a parish pastor in Bethel, before being transferred back to Fairbanks.

Kettler thanked the Immaculate Conception staff and parishioners for their dedication and perseverance during the past three months and said he hoped to announce a replacement priest for the historical church in downtown Fairbanks "in a timely manner."

He added that he was grateful to McCaffrey for the service he provided during his tenure and that he will continue to pray for him.

In closing, the bishop wrote, "My concern continues to be for the safety and spiritual welfare of our community, especially our children."

Response to the bishop's message was of sadness and prayer.

"It's sad. It breaks my heart," said Ann Lee, a St. Mark's parishioner, who heard the letter read Sunday evening.

Members of the St. Mark's congregation asked for prayers for McCaffrey and "his accusers" at the General Intercession part of Mass where churchgoers ask for prayers or offer thanksgivings.

Gavora said she was buoyed, as were many other parishioners, by the bishop's presence and that he met and talked to people in the social hall between services. "It's very, very hard on him," she observed.

Gavora said she and her fellow Immaculate Conception parishioners were ready to move forward.

"We've been like sheep without a shepherd for three months or more," she said. "We have had two Nigerian priests, who are just wonderful people, and a couple other new priests in town who have been helping out. ... We have a wonderful staff. We are going to survive."


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