Bishop: Priest in Treatment

By Adam Ferrise
Tribune Chronicle
October 11, 2011

YOUNGSTOWN - A Catholic priest who served in many Mahoning Valley parishes over the last 40 years has entered a treatment facility as an investigation deemed "credible" allegations that he sexually assaulted an adolescent altar boy at least three decades ago.

The Rev. John Warner, who had been the pastor of SS. Phillip and James Parish in Canal Fulton since 2003, has been on leave since the former altar boy at Youngstown's St. Edward Parish made the allegations in June.

Warner served at St. Edward from 1976 to 1982.

"The victim said he was carrying this around for long time," said Catholic Diocese of Youngstown Bishop George V. Murry at a news conference. "He said he carried it around long enough and came to the decision."

Murry said the man was about 13 years old at the time and that Warner inappropriately touched him after Mass. The man declined counseling through the church and was unaware if anyone else may have had a similar experience with the priest, according to Murry.

Warner has denied the allegation, according to Murry, and is currently at a psychiatric treatment facility for priests accused of abusing minors.

The bishop said the Diocesan Review Board and two former FBI agents investigated the claim and found it to be credible. Following that, he turned over information to the Mahoning County and Stark County prosecutor's offices as well as both counties' Children Services agencies.

He declined to comment on the procedures the investigators used.

Murry said he does not know if criminal charges will be filed, but said the diocese will "fully cooperate with any investigation."

Warner, whose career included a three-year stint at St. Mary Parish in Warren and St. Vincent dePaul Parish in Vienna, also has been placed on administrative leave, which strips him of his ability perform any function of a priest, including celebration of the sacraments, wearing clerical attire or presenting himself as a priest in good standing.

"The reality of sexual abuse of minors in any setting, but most especially in the Catholic Church, causes all of us disappointment, sadness and deep hurt," Murry wrote in a letter to the parishes where Warner worked.

Murry said when Warner's counseling is complete, a report will be sent to the Vatican and it will recommend a course of action. He will never be returned to priesthood, Murry said.

The Rev. John Jerek, the pastor of SS. Philip and James, said the parish was shocked and saddened by the news, which they received this weekend during Mass via a letter from Murry.

"They were very fond of their pastor but they didn't like to hear what happened," Jerek said. "They understood what steps needed to be taken."

Murry said he decided to be open about the investigation because he hoped if there are other victims, they would come forward.

"This is certainly an embarrassment for us, but the only way we can move beyond this is to be open and transparent," Murry said.

Warner is the second diocesan priest in the last two years to be removed from the priesthood.

In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI removed the Rev. Thomas Crum from the priesthood for having sexual contact with a minor.

Crum, who had served more than 30 years with the diocese, admitted to sexually abusing a high school student in 1975-76. He was removed from active ministry in 2009 after confirming allegations that he had sexually abused a minor.


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