Scandal Erupts over Jesus Seminar Speaker

By Angus Henderson
Medicine Hat News [Canada]
April 27, 2007

A storm of controversy erupted over the Jesus Seminar on the Road Thursday when two U.S. organizations objected to a retired American priest being one of two presenters, because of unproven allegations of sexual abuse.

Former priest Edward Beutner is scheduled to speak at the two-day seminar starting Friday at All Saints Anglican Church in Medicine Hat.

The seminar explores what has been learned about the historical Jesus over the years through the Bible and other historical documents.

An organization called Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) held two press conferences in Wisconsin in places where the former priest worked and decried the fact that his bishop hadn't informed Medicine Hat and area residents of the allegations.

"What SNAP wants to make sure is that cities in your area are safe," said spokesperson Bob Schwiderski, in a telephone interview after the press conference.

"He is a credibly accused and restricted priest because of allegations (four to six anonymous ones) of sexual abuse of minors and he wasn't supposed to continue presenting himself in the role of a priest, the program in Alberta indicates the opposite of that."

Anne Doyle, is co-director of a website called bishop, which refers to itself as the largest source of information on clergy sexual abuse in the U.S.

"It was just a coincidence that a reporter in Wisconsin asked whether I had been doing any research on accused priests in the area," she explained, after phoning the News to express her organization's concern. "I was just idly Googling and discovered he was going to be in your area this weekend."

She informed the News that Beutner, a former priest from Wisconsin, had been accused of molesting some five to six children, but had not been convicted of any crime.

"There is reason to think that he is a danger to parishioners, especially those who are young, or of minor age."

Beutner is currently the defendant in a civil lawsuit case in Wisconsin, accused by an anonymous 56-year-old man of abusing him and four other boys in the mid to late 1960s.

He was placed on leave from the Catholic Diocese of Superior, Wis. when the allegations first surfaced in 2002.

Fr. Phil Heslin, spokesperson for the Diocese of Superior said he was limited as to what he could say about Beutner because of the litigation.

He did take issue with SNAP's assertion that Beutner was an employee of the diocese and under its supervision.

"He's no longer a priest, he's a layman now and the diocese has no authority over him," stressed Heslin. "We don't know how he's presenting himself, and we don't know where he lives or anything."

He did admit that Beutner had an impressive theological background with a doctorate in theology from the University of California at Berkeley.

"He can talk a lot on scripture, but we're (the diocese) not sending him out there," he added.

Rev. Ronda Ploughman, who oversees All Saints Anglican Church in Medicine Hat, fails to see what the fuss is all about.

"Our diocese doesn't screen the moral background of our speakers when we invite someone to speak on a topic," she stated Thursday.

"I've consulted with my superiors as well as with my leaders here in the church, and I have no concerns whatsoever."

She also pointed out that of the 55 people attending the Jesus Seminar, none are teens or young children, and wondered what the motive of the two U.S. groups was when there was obviously no danger to young people.


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