Retired Priest Penalized for Alleged Abuse
New Church Guidelines Prompt Bishop's Move

By Todd Ackerman and Tara Dooley
Houston Chronicle
June 23, 2002

A retired Houston-area monsignor recently hit with new allegations of sexual misconduct has been informed he no longer will be allowed to present himself as a priest.

Monsignor Charles Schoppe may no longer wear clerical attire or introduce himself as a monsignor, said the Rev. Joseph A. Fiorenza, bishop of the Houston-Galveston diocese. Schoppe was forced to retire in 1992 after the church confirmed he sexually abused a child 30 years earlier, said a diocesan statement released Saturday. It said new allegations of abuse were made two weeks ago.

"The case also will be sent to diocesan review board," the statement said. "The diocese will cooperate fully with any investigation regarding the new allegations."

Also, in the statement, Fiorenza expressed "deep regret for the harm committed to anyone who was sexually abused by Schoppe."

The new allegations were made by three adults who said they were abused as minors. The diocese released their allegations Saturday only after assuring them their anonymity would be protected, said church spokeswoman Annette Gonzales Taylor.

A message left for Schoppe on Saturday was not returned, but the diocese said he had denied the new allegations.

The announcement of Schoppe's new status comes eight days after the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops approved new standards for dealing with sexual abuse in the church, the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. In a three-day meeting in Dallas, the bishops overwhelmingly agreed to remove from public ministry any priest who even once sexually abused a minor in the past or present and any priest who does in the future.

Schoppe, 76, would have been informed he can no longer present himself as a priest even without the new allegations, said Taylor. Many priests routinely wear their "black and whites" after retiring, said Taylor.

Schoppe has not celebrated Mass since he was "retired for cause" in 1992, added Taylor. Fiorenza prohibited him from celebrating Mass or performing any of the sacraments at that time.

Before 1992, Schoppe oversaw the St. Dominic Center, a Catholic nursing home and retirement center. He had served as pastor of St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Houston from 1967 until 1974.

In Dallas a week ago, the conference's nearly 290 bishops stopped short of automatically calling for the priest to be defrocked - a move that angered some clergy sexual abuse survivors and victims advocates. Only the pope can defrock, or laicize, a priest. But bishops, including Fiorenza, said removing abusive priests from public ministry - not allowing them to wear collars, present themselves as priests or celebrate Mass in public - was, in effect, a zero-tolerance policy.

The new rules approved in Dallas also require bishops to inform parishioners if a sexually abusive priest had ever worked in their midst.

Elements of the charter will be sent to the Vatican for approval by the pope. If the pope approves them, they will become mandated policy in American dioceses.

The Houston-Galveston diocese statement about Schoppe added that anyone with information regarding sexual misconduct by a priest should report it to the Victims Assistance Coordinator at 713-659-5461. The new charter mandates such a position.


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