Diocesan Suspicions

Toledo Blade [Ohio]
May 28, 2006

After all the damaging publicity the Roman Catholic Church has suffered because of errant priests either accused or convicted of sexual misconduct, you'd think the hierarchy would see the light. But you'd be wrong.

You'd think church leaders would be especially sensitive to any allegations of misdeeds by clerics and act immediately to resolve them. But no.

You'd think a diocese like Toledo that has had to bar 10 priests from the ministry would also be keenly aware of criticism that the church has put itself ahead of its flock in such unsettling matters.

But the case of the Rev. Robert Yeager places that assumption on its head. The diocese admittedly knew of sexual abuse allegations against the Toledo priest at least two years ago - maybe more. But Father Yeager has only now been removed from the ministry.

A church review board said it took that long it to find "specific information sufficient to conclude that the allegations [are] indeed credible."

Father Yeager was accused of molesting a boy nearly 30 years ago. It is not the only such allegation against the priest who served as principal and pastor at four high schools in the diocese.

Yet, more important to the Diocese of Toledo than the disturbing allegations against the priest, it seems, was his expertise at church fund-raising.

Before retiring last year the diocesan priest worked on a $60 million capital-improvement campaign for the diocese. Before that Father Yeager worked as a "planned giving consultant" for the diocese from 1997 to 2005.

He is currently listed as a executive director of the Diocesan Fiscal Management Conference, a private firm in Waterville that advises dioceses around the country on fiscal management. Is it unfair to at least wonder if Father Yeager might have been too valuable a financial resource for the church to do without, despite the longstanding accusations against him?

The diocese's timing to act against Father Yeager did not go unnoticed by the alleged victim's attorney, who has been meeting with diocesan lawyers since 2004.

"I wish they had done it two years ago," said Catherine Hoolahan, "but I'm glad the church did it, even if it is late."

Less forgiving of the church delay between allegations and action was Claudia Vercellotti of the Toledo chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "What happened in the intervening 24 months? Why wasn't he placed on administrative leave while they investigated?" she asked.

Why indeed?


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