Kent County Parish Loses 4th Priest to Sex Abuse Allegations

Associated Press, carried in [Michigan]
January 9, 2007

Caledonia Township, Mich. (AP) — Four priests connected to a Roman Catholic church in Kent County have been removed from their duties over the past five years because of sexual misconduct allegations.

Parishioners at Holy Family Catholic Church in Caledonia Township were sent letters Saturday announcing the removal of the Rev. David LeBlanc. He acknowledged sexually abusing a preteen boy in Muskegon in 1971, said Bishop Walter Hurley.

"We're all very sad about it," said Ellen Lehnert, a member of the pastoral council for the 1,200-family parish. "It is a very big shock. He's just a super good guy and a very good priest."

The parish is about 125 miles west of Detroit. It was to hold a meeting Tuesday night with the Rev. Thomas Page, the Diocese of Grand Rapids' associate vicar for priests.

The sexual abuse occurred while LeBlanc was serving at Jean Baptiste Catholic Church in Muskegon but did not happen at the church, Hurley told The Grand Rapids Press.

In 2002, three other priests with ties to Holy Family parish were removed from the active ministry in sexual misconduct cases.

The Rev. Michael Walsh was removed over 40-year-old abuse allegations, the Rev. Donald Heydens was removed on accusations of molesting four teenage girls in the early 1970s and the Rev. Dennis Wagner was removed on accusations of molesting six boys in the 1980s.

The diocese said none of the incidents happened in Holy Family parish.

Hurley said the victim in the latest case came forward in 1993, and LeBlanc then acknowledged the abuse. The bishop came across the case during a review of files on priests accused of abuse, he said.

Hurley said he had no choice other than to remove LeBlanc under the U.S. Catholic bishops' 2002 policy on sexual abuse. It calls for permanently removing priests for a single, substantiated case of sexual abuse of a minor.

"I am obligated as a bishop to follow the requirements of the charter, for the well-being of the church and protection of victims," he said.

Since the bishops' policy took effect, nine priests in the diocese have been removed in abuse cases. Most of the removals happened under then-Bishop Robert Rose, who led the diocese in 1989-2003.

Hurley said information was being submitted to Muskegon County Prosecutor Tony Tague but said the statute of limitations has long since run out.

"I'm really saddened, and I really apologize to the families who have been abused by priests or other representatives of the church," the bishop said.

Source: The Grand Rapids Press,


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