Omaha Abuse Allegation Sent to Vatican

By Christopher Burbach
The World-Herald
February 18, 2012

Rev. Al Salanitro in 2004

An allegation that an Omaha priest sexually abused a youth in the early 1990s will go to the Vatican for further investigation.

The Archdiocese of Omaha announced Friday that its investigation of the allegation against the Rev. Al Salanitro was complete and that it had "met the church's minimum standard for a credible allegation." That does not mean local church officials determined Salanitro, who has denied the allegation, was guilty; rather, that it met the standards for Vatican investigation that were set by the Catholic Church's more stringent rules on handling sex abuse allegations.

The man, from Carter Lake, Iowa, accused Salanitro of sexually abusing him about 20 years ago while Salanitro was pastor at Omaha's Holy Cross Catholic Church. Salanitro has said he never sexually abused any minor.

Salanitro had taken a voluntary leave of absence as pastor of St. Bernadette Catholic Church in Bellevue. As required by church rules, he now has been placed on administrative leave, which bars him from public ministry pending the outcome of the Vatican investigation, according to an Archdiocese of Omaha press release from Deacon Tim McNeil, chancellor of the archdiocese.

He said the archdiocese would have no comment beyond the release.

Omaha Archbishop George J. Lucas and the Archdiocesan Review Board that advises Lucas on the protection of young people, an 11-member volunteer board of childcare experts, law enforcement officials, attorneys, clergy and mental health professionals, met three times and conducted a thorough and exhaustive investigation, the release said.

"The general rule is that all sexual abuse cases must be referred to the Holy See," McNeil said in prepared remarks. "The only exception would be when the allegation is manifestly false. In other words, if there is a semblance of truth to the allegation, Archbishop Lucas is obliged to seek the intervention of the Holy See."

The case will go to the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. That body can do a number of things with a case. Those include authorizing Lucas to hold a church trial, holding a trial in Rome, requiring Lucas to gather more information, ruling that there is insufficient evidence or "in the clearest and most egregious cases" refer the matter to the pope for immediate dismissal from the clerical state.

"Lucas has sent a letter to the parish's 950 members informing them of Salanitro's status and assuring them of his prayers for them and Salanitro in the days ahead," according to the release.

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