Lyons: Church's Silence Keeps Abuse Alive

By Tom Lyons
The Herald-Tribune
February 6, 2011

William C. Wert's vow of chastity, poverty and obedience as a Roman Catholic Priest of the Carmelite Order seems to have fallen by the wayside on all three counts.

Or is it just two?

If sheriff's investigators are right, a recent series of sexual encounters with a 14-year-old boy in Venice rules out chastity, in just about the worst possible way.

And Wert's recent purchase of a new Mustang sports car pretty much takes poverty out of the question, I'd think.

But obedience?

I don't know. Wert obediently left the diocese in Washington at the order of his prior, Father John Welch, after Wert was charged with aggressively sexually accosting and grabbing an adolescent boy at a bus stop. Wert was eventually convicted on a reduced charge.

Wert is one of 190 Carmelite priests Welch supervises in the United States and South America, and Welch told a reporter that sending Wert to Venice was his way of keeping him away from children.


It seems the idea was that by putting him in a church-owned house in Venice, and not assigning him a ministry role, he wouldn't encounter underage boys he might be attracted to.

That's an amazingly nonchalant effort, especially given that Wert isn't the first of Welch's priests to be charged with sexual acts involving children.

Priests aren't chained to walls. The house in Venice is within a few minutes' walk of a Catholic church and school, first of all. But far more importantly, the unsupervised problem priest shared that house with other Carmelite priests who apparently had been given no clue he might be inclined to go out looking for young boys.

With or without a flashy sports car, Wert was free to cruise while the church supported him in a community where no one knew a thing about him except that the church had sent him here.

My calls to the Carmelite Order haven't been returned.

As is so often the case, church leaders otherwise accustomed to speaking publicly on moral issues and failings have been content to say little about this apparent example of immoral and criminal behavior by a priest brought here by the church.

And locally, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of the Diocese of Venice has left it to his spokesman, Bob Reddy, to comment. And Reddy is adamant that he won't.

That is, except to say that a 'no comment' is appropriate because "we're not commenting on another diocese's priests, on a Carmelite priest that has nothing to do with our diocese."

What? How about that he's a priest with the same church, and living and allegedly offending in Dewane's diocese?

I guess it would violate the church's corporate culture to object to learning that another church leader knowingly sent a priest here to lie low, while well aware of his sexual interest in young boys and his history of acting on it, and said nothing.

And even though the priest is arrested on charges of a sex crime with a juvenile here, the local bishop thinks it would be inappropriate to mention it, question it, or, heaven forbid, be critical of the decision.

So much for bold moral leadership. No wonder this just keeps happening.

Tom Lyons can be contacted at or (941) 361-4964.


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