Omaha Priest on Leave Amid Abuse Allegation

By Susan Szalewski
Omaha World-Herald
April 30, 2012

A 68-year-old Omaha priest has been placed on administrative leave while the Catholic Church investigates an accusation he sexually abused a teenage girl in the 1970s.

The Rev. Franklin A. Dvorak, pastor at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church, denies the allegation, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Omaha said.

An archdiocesan review board conducted a preliminary investigation and determined there was enough evidence to meet the church's standard for a credible allegation, said Deacon Timothy McNeil, the archdiocese's chancellor.

At Masses on Sunday, parishioners at St. Elizabeth Ann and St. James Churches were notified through a letter from Archbishop George Lucas. St. James parishioners were included because they share an elementary school with St. Elizabeth Ann, McNeil said.

Dvorak, contacted by phone Sunday evening, declined to comment. He is prohibited from public ministry until the church's canon law process is complete.

The woman who lodged the complaint was a high school student when the abuse would have occurred, from 1970 to 1972. At the time, Dvorak was at Sacred Heart Church in Norfolk, his first assignment as a priest.

When the Omaha Archdiocese received the complaint in late March, officials contacted Madison County Attorney Joe Smith. The archdiocese did this as part of its procedures for a sexual abuse complaint, though a criminal case would have expired under Nebraska's former statute of limitations. Any civil case also likely would have expired, Smith said.

The archdiocese review board — an 11-member volunteer board of child care professionals, law enforcement officials, attorneys, clergy and mental health professionals — advises the archbishop on sexual abuse cases. It met April 23 to discuss the complaint against Dvorak.

Lucas is now obliged to refer the case to the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, McNeil said. In his letter to St. James parishioners, the archbishop said that nearly all sexual abuse cases must be referred to the Vatican, except when the allegation is “manifestly false.”

The Vatican office will review the initial findings. It could try the case in its own tribunal, remand the case to Lucas for a trial or direct the archbishop to address the matter through an administrative process, McNeil said.

Or the Vatican office could find there is not sufficient evidence of an ecclesiastical crime. If evidence is overwhelming, the chancellor said, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith could refer the matter to Pope Benedict XVI for an immediate dismissal of the priest.

In his letter, Lucas said he will meet with members of both parishes Monday at 7 p.m. at St. Elizabeth Ann, 5419 N. 114th St., to explain the canonical process and answer questions.

The Rev. Chibuzor Gerald Igboanusi, an associate pastor at St. Elizabeth Ann, will serve temporarily as a parochial administrator at the church. Lucas said he hoped to appoint a more permanent administrator to begin working there in mid-June.

Dvorak was ordained in 1970 and has been at St. Elizabeth Ann since 2007. He served at Norfolk's Sacred Heart from 1970 to 1974. The other Nebraska parishes where he served are St. Patrick in O'Neill, St. Mary in Spencer, St. Michael in Coleridge, Holy Trinity in Hartington and St. Wenceslaus in Omaha.

He is a native of Dodge, Neb., and has been involved with Christians Encounter Christ for more than 35 years. On the St. Elizabeth Ann website, Dvorak also said he conducted numerous retreats for students and has been a chaplain for the Omaha Police Department for the past 15 years.

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