|Priest Accused of Sexual Abuse
Father Chase Is on Administrative Leave from Parish
By Alicia Ebaugh
April 20, 2010
Facing an allegation of sexual abuse from 19 years ago, Father Terrence Chase of Queen of All Saints Catholic Church has been placed on administrative leave.
Parishioners were first made aware of an investigation into the incident this weekend, although it was reported to Bishop Dale Melczek and Chesterton police nearly a month ago, officials said.
"The parishioners of Queens are hurt over this. There is disbelief and shock that this could happen," said church Deacon Mark Plaiss, who also is the communications director for the Catholic Diocese of Gary. "They were blind sided."
The alleged sexual misconduct took place in 1991 while Father Chase was a pastoral associate at St. Patrick Church in Chesterton, Plaiss said. On Thursday, the day Father Chase was officially placed on leave, he issued a statement maintaining his innocence, saying the allegations are "simply not true."
"I do not know why these accusations were leveled against me," Father Chase wrote. "Regardless, the process the Diocese has in place for investigating the allegations has progressed to the point where I have been placed on administrative leave from my responsibilities. I have cooperated with the process and plan to continue participating in the process in order to bring this inquiry to its appropriate resolution. Meanwhile, to the many friends, family, parishioners and others who are part of my life, you will be in my prayers and I trust that in turn, you will keep me in your prayers."
A letter from Melczek and the statement from Father Chase were stapled into parishioners' church bulletins beginning Saturday night to explain what has happened, Plaiss said. The bishop also met with about 150 parishioners Sunday afternoon at Queen of All Saints to answer their questions.
The incident was reported to the bishop two weeks before Easter, he said, and a response team made up of two priests and eight Catholic church members within the Diocese was convened to investigate whether the allegation was credible. After several interviews with both the alleged victim and Father Chase, they determined the allegation appeared to have merit and reported that finding to the bishop April 12.
"That does not mean he is guilty or innocent — just that it's not a frivolous claim," Plaiss said, adding the Diocese worked as quickly as possible to investigate the claim.
"The gears were put into motion instantly when the report was made," he said.
The sex and age of the reported victim are not known to anyone except the response team and Melczek, Plaiss said.
Father Chase had been on vacation since Easter and returned long enough to move out of the Queen of All Saints rectory before his administrative leave started, Plaiss said. He is not in the Midwest as of now, although Plaiss said he didn't know where Father Chase is staying. He is not being paid a salary while on leave, although the Diocese will give him unspecified means of support, similar to that of a retired priest, Plaiss said.
While on leave, Father Chase is not allowed to celebrate Mass publicly or administer the Sacraments, is not to reside anywhere in which a minor lives or is present and is not allowed to wear clerical garb or present himself publicly as a priest. He also has been asked to undergo a psychological and medical assessment.
The Catholic Church's policies require all evidence and testimony in sex-abuse cases to be forwarded to the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican in Rome. The Congregation investigates sex-abuse cases involving priests and other matters regarding Catholic doctrine worldwide.
"It will take a long time for them to come to a conclusion. I have no way of guessing how long it will take, but I know it won't be in the next two months," Plaiss said. "The congregation has a lot on their plate."
Father Kevin Huber, the Diocese of Gary's vocations director, will serve as temporary administrator of Queen of All Saints until this issue is resolved. He will move into the rectory here Tuesday.
No criminal or civil charges have been filed against Father Chase at this time, Plaiss said, and no similar allegations were made against him in the past. He was ordained as a priest in the Diocese 26 years ago and has been at Queen of All Saints since July 1, 2003. He also served at St. Andrew Catholic Church in Merrillville.
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