Churchgoers Support Ousted Priest

By Rick Wilson
Grand Rapids Press [Caledonia Township MI]
January 10, 2007

Caledonia Township -- About 500 members of Holy Family Catholic Church filled their sanctuary Tuesday to express support for a former priest forced from the ministry after admitting to sexually abusing a boy 35 years ago.

They also expressed anger at Bishop Walter Hurley, who did not attend. Many accused him of "railroading" their priest out of public ministry.

Emotions were raw with many choking back tears as they expressed frustration with the lack of details on the circumstances of a 1971 incident in which their former priest, the Rev. David Le Blanc, admitted to sexual abuse of a minor.

In a letter to parish members, Le Blanc wrote that he was "immodest" with a boy in his care, but that there was no physical contact or coercion.

Descriptions offered by Le Blanc and the Diocese of Grand Rapids left most uncertain whether their priest was being punished too harshly for a single incident long ago for which his victim reportedly has forgiven him.

The Rev. Thomas Page, the diocese's associate vicar for priests, told the congregation Le Blanc and his victim met in 1993 with a counselor and that a "reconciliation had taken place."

"I don't want to hear that something happened," parish member John Connelly told Page, who was moderating the meeting after a short worship service. "I want to hear exactly what happened, not the usual church answer. And why isn't the bishop here tonight?

"I think this whole thing is a big sham," he added. "Father Dave got the shaft."

Page offered a sketchy timeline of events leading up to Le Blanc's public duties being ended by the bishop last week. While Le Blanc remains in the diocese, he is forbidden from performing public ministry, wearing clerical clothing and presenting himself as a priest.

Page said Hurley, who took over the diocese in 2005, recently began reviewing personnel files of priests and discovered information on Le Blanc's incident.

In a letter he sent to parishioners, Le Blanc said Hurley brought up the incident to him during a Dec. 15 meeting. While the priest said he initially believed Hurley would move up Le Blanc's retirement date -- which was set for this summer -- he learned Dec. 20 that Hurley would make his removal public.

Page told those attending that Hurley had no choice, given the "zero-tolerance" policy under the 2002 U.S. bishop's charter for sexual abuse.

That led some to call for changes to the policy, while a few cautioned that innocent children still need protection.

Bob Agents, a member of the parish's pastoral council, asked those attending to have faith in the diocese's decision.

"This isn't trumped-up, because Father Dave admitted to it," Agents said outside the meeting. "I have to have faith that the bishop as our spiritual leader had to remove Father Dave from public ministry. We can't go back to the days when things were just swept under the rug."

Other parishioners such as Richard Neuman, however, said they believe the allegations are overblown.

"It was presented like a molestation, and I think that was wrong," Neuman said.


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