Abuse Victim Wants Priest Removed
Saginaw's Bishop Says He Wants to Hear from Parishioners before Deciding the Future of the Priest, Who Admitted the Abuse

Grand Rapid Press
April 22, 2002

ALMA -- A priest in this Gratiot County community told parishioners that he engaged in "inappropriate sexual behavior" that ended "over 16 years ago" when he was in Ohio.

The Rev. John Hammer delivered prepared remarks to about 200 people at the end of a Mass on Saturday at St. Mary Catholic Church, The Saginaw News reported.

Hammer has served 10 years as pastor at St. Mary, which also is home to a parochial elementary school, and at nearby Mount St. Joseph Catholic Church. He served at St. Stephen Catholic Church in Saginaw from 1990 to 1992.

A 33-year-old Columbus, Ohio, man wants Bishop Kenneth Untener, who oversees the Diocese of Saginaw, to remove Hammer from the priesthood, the newspaper reported.

The man was an altar boy between 1980 and 1983, when Hammer "sexually abused" him repeatedly at St. Louis Catholic Church in Louisville, Ohio, lawyer Jeffrey Anderson said.

The Rev. Tom Moore, director of the Diocesan Office of Church Ministries, said the bishop wants to hear from St. Mary and Mount St. Joseph parishioners before deciding Hammer's future.

"The bishop has to get a sense of where the people are on this," diocese spokeswoman Cathy Haven said Sunday. "If the people aren't comfortable with a pastor, it doesn't matter how gifted he is."

Moore assisted Hammer in officiating the Mass and said he served as Hammer's "spiritual adviser" for the past 12 years. Hammer "carries a deep sorrow" for his misdeeds, Moore said.

Hammer's revelations were the first to surface in the Diocese of Saginaw amid nationwide reports about sexual abuse by members of the clergy.

The crisis led Pope John Paul II to summon U.S. cardinals to Rome for discussions Tuesday and Wednesday.

"I would like to still be your pastor," Hammer told parishioners during his remarks.

"I do love you. You are my family, my parish family -- St. Mary's as well as St. Joseph's. Please pray for those I have harmed, and please pray for me."

Hammer told St. Mary parishioners his conduct was "wrong, hurtful and sinful," but he was in "complete denial" at the time and was not aware his actions were "harmful to others."

He said he was removed from his duties in 1985 and sent to an "institute" in Maryland, which he did not identify. Hammer said he returned home in 1990 to live with his parents in Ohio and sought an appointment in the Diocese of Saginaw.

Untener first rejected Hammer's appointment as part of a policy not to accept "priests with problems in the past," Hammer said. But Hammer said Untener reconsidered, with the encouragement from the bishop of the Diocese of Youngstown, and eventually approved.

"Because of my rehabilitation program, I'm not the same person I was in 1985," Hammer told parishioners, "and I am grateful to the Diocese of Saginaw for the opportunity to prove it."


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