Second Priest Removed
Relieved: Archbishop Keleher Recalls Priest Who Served Parishes in Marysville and Beattie
By Bill Blankenship
May 3, 2002
KANSAS CITY, Kan. --- A northeast Kansas priest who until this past summer was responsible for recruiting seminarians for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas was removed Thursday from his pastoral duties in Marysville and Beattie because of "issues of possible sexual impropriety," Archbishop James Patrick Keleher said.
In a written statement issued through The Leaven, the archdiocesan newspaper, Keleher said the Rev. Dennis Schmitz, pastor of St. Gregory's Parish in Marysville and St. Malachy's Parish in Beattie, "has been relieved of his duties, effective immediately, and placed on indefinite leave."
"Issues of possible sexual impropriety have been raised in regard to Father Schmitz, and we believe that it is best that he be with his family," Keleher said of the 41-year-old priest who grew up on his family's farm near Axtell.
The archbishop said church officials had reported the allegations to the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services in Topeka. SRS is the state agency that investigates accusations of child abuse or neglect.
"Until the SRS investigation is complete, we will not be able to comment further," Keleher said.
SRS spokeswoman Stacy Herman confirmed the agency took a report on Schmitz on Thursday morning but said the matter was turned over to law enforcement officers. That is typical when an alleged abuse case doesn't involve a child's caretaker or relative, Herman said.
The Rev. Charles McGlinn, vicar general of personnel for the archdiocese, said the case was referred to SRS because minors may have been involved, but he offered no further details other than to say, "Because of our suspicions, we felt we had to act immediately."
McGlinn said he didn't know when the alleged incidents occurred but thought this was the first allegation received against Schmitz.
Schmitz, who has been a priest since 1989, has served various parishes in the archdiocese, including the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at The University of Kansas, St. Ann's in Prairie Village and Queen of the Holy Rosary in Overland Park. He declined to comment on the allegations.
Schmitz has retained an attorney, Stephen G. Mirakian, of Kansas City, Mo. Mirakian said Thursday afternoon that he had only just seen a copy of the archdiocese's news release, "and I have not had an opportunity to consult with anybody at the archdiocese regarding the nature of the investigation or to determine what they have discovered."
"I've only had a brief meeting with Father Dennis when he consulted with me about my services, so at this point all I really know is what is in the press release and that there is going to be whatever investigation the church or the SRS believes is appropriate," Mirakian said. "Until I've seen the results of any such investigation, it would be premature for me to comment."
Schmitz contacted Mirakian on Wednesday night after learning a report had been made against him, the attorney said, calling the priest's decision to seek legal counsel "a prudent thing to do, regardless of the merits of the allegations."
As director of vocations for the archdiocese since the mid-1990s, Schmitz proved very successful in recruiting men for the priesthood. In 1993, when Keleher was named archbishop by Pope John Paul II, the archdiocese that covers 21 counties in northeast Kansas had three seminarians. Today there are more than 20 men studying for the priesthood.
In an Aug. 1 story in The Leaven, Schmitz's successor as vocations director, the Rev. Brian Schieber, said: "He's done a fantastic job. He was really the one who got the vocations office off the ground. He was our first full-time director."
Schmitz tried new ways to plant the idea of religious life among young men in the archdiocese, including establishing a team of basketball-playing priests, the Runnin' Revs, who would play teams of local Catholic boys at area schools, including Hayden High School in Topeka.
Schmitz also frequently visited parochial schools in the archdiocese and spoke about vocations at Masses in churches across northeast Kansas. He also led youth groups on pilgrimages, including one of more than 100 to the 2000 World Youth Day at the Vatican.
Schmitz is the second priest removed from an archdiocesan parish in the past few weeks.
The Rev. Donald Redmond, a 72-year-old monk at St. Benedictine's Abbey in Atchison, was recalled from Sacred Heart Parish in Sabetha by Abbot Barnabas Senecal after he received a report in February alleging Redmond used "inappropriate sexual touch" with a youngster in the 1960s in a parish in Iowa.
After Redmond was removed from his pastoral duties, Senecal said he received other allegations from parishioners of Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Seneca, where Redmond served from 1961 to 1964.
One complainant is seeking "substantial monetary compensation," Senecal said, while the others were satisfied with Redmond's removal.
As a priest ordained in a religious order, Redmond is accountable to the leader of his religious community. As an archdiocesan priest, Schmitz reports to the archbishop.
The archdiocese has said it is investigating allegations against three other priests --- two deceased and one retired --- for incidents that date back 30 to 40 years.
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