Local Priest Accused of Abuse
Anonymous Call Reported to Police
By Laura Ungar and Steve Church
News Journal [Wilmington DE]
April 6, 2002
A local priest has been relieved of his duties after an anonymous allegation that he abused a child years ago. The action comes amid an international sexual abuse crisis within the Roman Catholic Church.
Officials from the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington said they took action against the Rev. William E. Irwin - a priest in residence at St. Mary Magdalen parish in Brandywine Hundred - after Irwin received an anonymous telephone call Tuesday accusing him of abuse.
Diocesan officials said Irwin, 63, immediately contacted Bishop Michael A. Saltarelli's office about the call, and the diocese reported the accusation to the state Division of Child Protective Services.
"That mandatory report to the state was made without any judgment of guilt and was intended to comply with the law," diocesan spokesman Robert G. Krebs wrote in a statement. "In strict accordance with the existing Diocesan policy, Father Irwin has been relieved of all priestly duties and faculties during the official investigation."
The Rev. John F. O'Brien, pastor at St. Mary Magdalen, said Irwin has physical problems and has been performing "very limited duties."
He said he does not know where Irwin is staying.
O'Brien, whose parish includes 1,800 families, said he plans to talk to parishioners about Irwin at services today and Sunday.
Krebs said Irwin voluntarily went to a state police barracks in New Castle, but was not arrested.
The police officer who talked with Irwin later called the Delaware Attorney General's Office for advice about how to handle the allegations.
Chief Deputy Attorney General Ferris Wharton would not say what he told the officer to do, or whether the priest is the subject of a formal investigation.
Lt. Tim Winstead, spokesman for the Delaware State Police, said it is impossible for police to act on an anonymous call.
"We are not conducting an active investigation," Winstead said. "Unless a victim comes forward with information, there's no way to investigate it."
In 1985, the diocese adopted a policy on reporting such incidents to authorities. "This [action] is in accordance with our policy," Krebs said. He would not comment further.
O'Brien said Irwin became a priest in residence at St. Mary Magdalen in October. He has held several other positions within the diocese over the years, including director of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, secretary of the Christian Formation Department, and dean of a cluster of parishes in Seaford and three counties in Maryland.
Two other priests accused of abuse have worked at St. Mary Magdalen in the past. They are the Rev. Kenneth J. Martin, who was arrested last year on charges that he sexually abused a male student more than 20 years ago; and the Rev. Edward F. Dudzinski Jr., who was named in a 1989 lawsuit charging that he sexually abused a teen-age boy.
Krebs said this is the first time the diocese has relieved a priest of his duties since the recent international crisis surrounding allegations of child sexual abuse by priests. The Wilmington diocese, which includes 56 parishes in Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Maryland, has identified 15 priests with substantiated allegations of child sexual abuse against them over the past 50 years.
Since the diocese made these revelations, Wharton said that Delaware Catholics have contacted prosecutors claiming to have been molested by area priests.
Attorney General Jane Brady said Wednesday that she has directed specific prosecutors in each county to handle the calls. She would not to talk about what she will ask Saltarelli when they meet later this month.
Prosecutors in southern New Jersey and Philadelphia have demanded that the Philadelphia Archdiocese hand over the names of 13 priests it has identified as committing some kind of abuse in the last 50 years.
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