Priest Confesses Misdeeds; Bexley Man Among Accusers

By Dennis M. Mahoney
Columbus Dispatch
April 23, 2002

A Roman Catholic priest formerly of the Youngstown Diocese -- accused by a Bexley man of molesting him when he was a young man -- has admitted to sexual misconduct in the early 1980s.

In 1985, the Rev. John Hammer was dismissed from the Youngstown Diocese by the bishop but in 1990 was admitted to the Saginaw Diocese in Michigan. Hammer, 49, now serves as pastor of two parishes: Church of St. Mary in Alma, Mich., and Mount St. Joseph Church in nearby St. Louis. He told his congregations Sunday that he had engaged in sexual misconduct as a young priest in the Youngstown Diocese.

"What I did was wrong, sinful and hurtful. I am truly sorry for what I did. I am sorry for the hurt that I caused anyone back then and how I am hurting you now by sharing my story," Hammer said.

His statement did not specify when or where the sexual misconduct occurred. The Youngstown Diocese dismissed Hammer after he was accused of misconduct at a parish in East Liverpool.

The 33-year-old Bexley resident, who did not want his name used, said Hammer abused him between 1980 and 1983 while Hammer was an assistant pastor at St. Louis Church in Louisville, just east of Canton.

The man said he was about 12 years old when he was first molested.

One incident took place in the church rectory, where he said Hammer entered the room where he was sleeping alone and began kissing him and fondling him.

"I didn't respond," he said. "I just lay there, pretending like it wasn't happening."

It was not discussed the next day. "I just let it go," the man said.

Another time, he said, during an overnight stay at the priest's parents' home, Hammer again came into his bedroom and molested him.

He said he doesn't know why he said nothing until now. "It's one of those things. You're embarrassed by it; you can't believe it happened to you."

Criminal charges aren't possible, the Stark County prosecutor said, because the statute of limitations expired. The Bexley man would like to see Hammer dismissed from the priesthood and is considering a lawsuit.

"As a priest, obviously people trust him," he said. "Every Sunday, people go to Mass and look up to him. They confess their sins to him. Why are you confessing your sins to this person? He should not be there."

Hammer told his congregation that he would like to remain pastor.

"I do love you, my parish family of St. Mary's and St. Joseph," he said.

A woman who answered the telephone yesterday at St. Mary said Hammer would be unavailable for comment indefinitely.

Cathy Haven, spokeswoman for the Saginaw Diocese, said Hammer will remain as pastor while his status is reviewed.

A spokesman for the Youngstown Diocese, Monsignor John Zuraw, said the diocese dismissed Hammer after he was accused of "improper touch" while he served at St. Aloysius Church in East Liverpool.

Then-Bishop James Malone removed Hammer from St. Aloysius and sent him to a treatment facility for evaluation, Zuraw said.

When Malone received the evaluation, "his determination was that Father Hammer would not be permitted to function as a priest within the Diocese of Youngstown," he said.

All diocesan records on Hammer, including information about the allegations and the evaluation, were sent to the Saginaw Diocese, Zuraw said.

Malone died in 2000. Nancy Yuhasz, diocesan chancellor, said the allegations of misconduct were not reported to the police because the families involved requested they not be.

Saginaw Bishop Kenneth Untener said Malone suggested in 1990 that he consider allowing Hammer into the diocese.

He said Malone told him that Hammer had been through five years of intensive treatment at St. Luke Institutional Center in Maryland, and Malone "felt that he was ready to return to ministry."

Untener said that after he reviewed Hammer's case with a psychologist and psychiatrist, he allowed Hammer into the diocese for a three-year probationary period.

During the three years, "He proved himself to be a very fine priest," the bishop said. Hammer was admitted as a full-time priest thereafter.

Untener said he decided that "he (Hammer) was able to function without being a risk to people -- that he wasn't the person he was."

Since coming to the diocese, Hammer has been involved with several therapy groups for people with sexual disorders, Untener said.

"He's been an outstanding priest, and no one has ever, ever suggested that there is any type of a problem."


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