School Closes for Defrocked Priest's Funeral

By David Yonke
Toledo Blade
November 7, 2007

Officials at Christ the King Catholic School announced yesterday that classes were canceled for today because of a defrocked priest's funeral at the West Toledo church.

The closure sent parents scrambling for day-care arrangements and raised concerns from a victims' advocacy group over whether special treatment was being given to an ex-priest barred from ministry for sexually abusing boys.

The cancellation announcement came in the form of a note sent home with the 600 students at the parochial school, who range from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade.

The note, signed by Principal Karen Malcolm, said a funeral was being held at the adjacent Christ the King Church today for Neil Lucas, the onetime pastor who died Sunday at age 69 after a lengthy illness, and "due to the large volume of participants, there will be no school."

The Rev. Michael Brown, pastor of Christ the King Parish, said he made the decision to scrap classes in concurrence with Mrs. Malcolm.

"We have no idea how many people are coming to the funeral [today]. We want to avoid disruption to the school," Father Brown said yesterday.

Retired Auxiliary Bishop Robert Donnelly was to preside at the Mass of Christian Burial this morning, said Sally Oberski, director of communications for the diocese.

The Catholic Church has no special funeral liturgy for priests, but the Mass of Christian Burial is available to lay persons and clerics alike, said the Rev. Charles Singler, director of the diocese's office of worship.

"We offer that service for every Christian. We also pray for the victims of his behavior, but that does not exclude him from a Christian burial," Father Singler said.

Claudia Vercellotti, coordinator of the Toledo chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the church was sending a "mixed message" to the public over how it treats priests who were ousted for abusing children.

"Canceling classes and having a bishop celebrate the funeral Mass sure sounds like all the honors you would give a priest in good standing, which he wasn't," Ms. Vercellotti said.

"I'm not saying that people shouldn't pray for him and remember him, but honoring Neil Lucas like this almost looks like an attempt to negate what he did wrong," she said.

She added that if officials were worried the funeral would be disruptive to classes, the service could have been held at night or on the weekend.

Mr. Lucas, a Toledo native who was ordained in 1967, was pastor of Christ the King from 1986 to 1999.

The diocese announced Dec. 9, 2002, that its review board had recommended Mr. Lucas be removed from ministry, and that then-Bishop James Hoffman concurred.

The Rev. Michael Billian said at the time that the allegations against Mr. Lucas involved more than one boy from Allen County who accused Mr. Lucas of abusing them in the 1970s.

He said Mr. Lucas did not deny the allegations.

Contact David Yonke at: dyonke@theblade.comor 419-724-6154.


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