Belmont County Priest Removed after Allegation of Sexual Abuse

November 17, 2007

A local priest was removed from a Belmont County parish after an allegation of sexual assault against a girl.

Father Gary Zalenski has been serving as the pastor of a Neffs parish since 1999, but the allegation against him stems from his time at another parish 16 years ago.

The rectory at Sacred Heart parish in Neffs sat dark Saturday night. NEWS9 went to see if Zalenski was home to talk about the sexual assault allegation against him, but he left earlier that afternoon.

His congregation was told at the end of mass Saturday evening by Bishop R. Daniel Conlon that Zalenski was being accused of sexually assaulting a female minor back in 1991, while he was a priest in Lore City, Ohio.

Parishioner Duane Olexa said he doesn't believe it.

"He's just a wonderful man, very caring human being. He's done a lot of good for the community," said Olexa.

In a new release set to NEWS9, Conlon said, "This is all very painful. I am angered that a young member of the church was apparently violated. I am embarrassed that the offender was a brother priest."

"I find it extremely disturbing how the case seems to be closed against Father Zalenski already. Even though I don't believe there's any weight to these allegations, you know how it is once they are out there. It's very difficult," said Olexa.

Conlon said all information about the incident is being forwarded to the Guernsey County prosecutor and to Rome.

Olexa said he spoke with Zalenski Saturday morning about the allegation.

"Of course he's very disappointed in the situation. He's not able to carry out his priestly duties and he's takes those seriously," said Olexa.

Olexa said he and many other parishioners were praying that father Zalenski's name would be cleared, and he would return to the church as soon as possible.

Monsignor Gene W. Mullett has been appointed Temporary Administrator of the church in the meantime. He is currently the pastor at St. Michael and St. John parishes in Bellaire.

Web Extra: Belmont County Priest Removed From Parish: Official Statement From Bishop R. Daniel Conlon

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