Church Parishioners Sign Petition of Support for Removed N.O. Priest

Morning Advocate [Baton Rouge, Louisiana]
May 25, 2002

New Orleans - More than 300 people have signed petitions in support of a priest who was recently relieved of his duties after admitting to sexual misconduct.

The Rev. C. Richard Nowery was removed as pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church on May 5.

Nowery was suspended, parishioners were told, because he had a sexual encounter with a 17-year-old youth and was once "verbally" inappropriate with another minor, between 1981 and 1986. He received psychological treatment, and his superiors in the Holy Cross order said there have been no complaints about him since then.

In the weeks since his removal, petitions have been signed and a delegation from the church has met with Archbishop Alfred Hughes to seek Nowery's reinstatement. One parishioner heckled the reading of a letter from Hughes to New Orleans Catholics during a Mass on May 18.

Their efforts come at a time of enormous pressure on bishops across the country to adopt a sweeping one-strike-and-you're-out policy against past child abusers when bishops meet in Dallas next month.

"I think there has to be some kind of local process and an element of common sense," said David Caruso, the Sacred Heart parishioner who heckled the reading of the Hughes letter.

"Hopefully, the bishops will adopt a policy that combines the needs for caution, fairness and a case-by-case sensitivity," he said.

But bishops may be tempted to enact more far-reaching reforms during their upcoming three-day meeting, said Christian Brugger, a professor of Christian ethics at Loyola University.

"I don't see how in the annual meeting a policy is going to be able to take into consideration all the fine points, cross all the t's and dot all the i's," he said. "I think what's going to happen is a lopsided policy, one that, for good reason, errs on the side of the victims."

Hughes said through a spokesman Wednesday that he knew of the parish's affection for Nowery before he met with their delegation last week. He said he hoped he was able to show them that his "major pressing concern at the moment is restoring trust in the church and the need to place the safety of children first," the spokesman, the Rev. William Maestri, said.

"I should add that most of the public feedback he has received in the last few weeks in mail and telephone calls and visits with parishes has been in support of his children-first policy," Maestri said.

Nowery, meanwhile, has sent word through a spokeswoman that he is grateful for the support that he has received, but would like the reinstatement efforts dropped to spare him and his elderly mother further turmoil.


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