Priest Removed from Ministry
Abuse Allegationsare Called Credible

By Peter Smith
March 23, 2010

LOUISVILLE (KY) -- The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville has permanently removed a longtime priest from ministry, saying it determined that past accusations of sexual abuse against him are credible.

The Rev. James R. Schook, 62, has been instructed by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz to live a life of "prayer and penance," in which he will remain a priest but no longer minister publicly.

Under church policy, Schook "may not celebrate Mass publicly or administer the sacraments," according to a statement from archdiocesan spokeswoman Cecelia Price. "He may not wear clerical garb or present himself publicly as a priest, and he will be directed not to have any unsupervised contact with minors."

Kurtz took the action on the recommendation of the archdiocese's review board for sexual abuse cases, which concluded in January that allegations against Schook were credible, according to the statement.

Schook had been on leave since July 2009 from his most recent assignment — as pastor of St. Ignatius Martyr Church on Rangeland Road — after he faced the first of several complaints alleging sexual abuse in the 1970s and 1980s.

Louisville Metro Police have been investigating those allegations since last summer, but no charges have been filed, according to spokeswoman Alicia Smiley.

Price said the archdiocese informed St. Ignatius parish members in February of the decision to remove Schook from ministry. He was ordained in 1975.

The archdiocese also informed its priests, but did not plan to announce Schook's removal more broadly until this fall when it released its next annual report on responding to abuse, Price said.

The archdiocese confirmed the decision Tuesday when The Courier-Journal inquired on the status of Schook's case. The query followed the Tuesday release by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops of national data on abuse in the church, including the results of an audit finding the Archdiocese of Louisville and most other dioceses in compliance with a stricter policy adopted in 2002.

Under that policy, any priest found by the church to have sexually abused a child is permanently removed from ministry.

Assigning a priest to "prayer and penance," in which he remains a priest under a bishop's supervision, is one of two options. In other cases, the Vatican has removed confirmed abusers from the priesthood.

Schook is the 10th priest of the Louisville archdiocese to have been permanently removed from ministry since the long-simmering scandal over sexual abuse by priests erupted in 2002.

Five were removed from the priesthood and four others ordered to live out their days in prayer and penance.

The archdiocese has paid nearly $30million in settlements and other costs to about 250 victims. Price said those in Schook's case, like the other victims, have received "outreach and offers of support," but details are confidential.

'A positive step'

The removal of Schook from the ministry "is a positive step," said Jeff Koenig, a leader of the local chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "It definitely shows a difference."

But he said he wishes the archdiocese had announced its decision more widely.

Schook previously worked at St. Thomas More, St. Raphael, Ascension, St. Lawrence, St. Polycarp and Our Lady of Consolation parishes in Louisville. St. Polycarp and Our Lady are now part of St. Peter the Apostle.

He also worked in the Catholic Deaf Community Ministry, St. Mary Magdalen of Pazzi Church in Payneville, Ky., and St. Theresa Church in Rhodelia, Ky., according to the archdiocese.

Price said priests at the parishes where Schook previously served have had discretion on whether to announce his removal to those parishioners.

Abuse policy audit

Schook's removal comes as an annual audit by the Boston-based Gavin Group determined the archdiocese has complied with stricter national policies on abuse. Those audits have deemed the archdiocese in compliance every year since 2002. Similar audits were conducted in all but a few dioceses nationally. The audits measure compliance with protocols for preventing and responding to abuse.

"Highlights of the audit include the 20,000-plus staff and volunteers who have now participated in safe-environment programming," Price said. "In addition, the auditors noted the complete and thorough database that the archdiocese created last year to track all employees and volunteers," documenting which ones have received safe-environment training and the results of their criminal-background checks.

In a related Georgetown University survey, 398 new allegations nationally were brought against 286 diocesan priests in 2009. More than half of the accused had been accused in previous years, and about 70 percent of them are either dead, removed from ministry or the priesthood or "missing."

The Archdiocese of Louisville reported the allegations against Schook as well as an allegation from the 1960s against a deceased priest who was previously accused of abuse, Price said.

All but 2 percent of the accusations nationally involved abuse before 2009, according to the report, by Georgetown's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.

Dioceses and religious orders have paid $104 million in settlements, legal fees, therapy for victims and other costs.

The allegations, accused priests and payments to victims in 2009 are the lowest nationally since 2004, the report said.

Reporter Peter Smith can be reached at (502) 582-4469.



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