Accused Priest Gives up Duties
By Dennis M. Mahoney
Columbus Dispatch (Ohio)
July 19, 2002
A Roman Catholic priest who had been living at a West Side parish and working as a hospital chaplain has retired and agreed not to minister publicly because of allegations of "improper actions" involving minors.
The Rev. Michael Ellifritz , who lived at St. Mary Magdalene Church since last summer and was a chaplain at Riverside Methodist Hospitals for 10 years, has retired for health reasons, said Tom Berg, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Columbus.
Berg would not describe Ellifritz's health troubles, but the priest recently told St. Mary Magdalene parishioners that he has heart problems.
The allegations against Ellifritz are about 20 years old, Berg said, and will be investigated by the Diocesan Board of Review, which is being established under mandates adopted last month by U.S. Catholic bishops to deal with priestly sexual misconduct.
He would not say where Ellifritz was serving at the time of the allegations, nor whether the alleged misconduct was sexual.
"It's still pending before the review board, so I can't go into the details," Berg said.
Twenty years ago, Ellifritz would have been pastor either at Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Wellston, in Jackson County, or at St. Luke Church in Danville, in Knox County. A check of police records in both communities earlier this year revealed no complaints against him.
Even though the case is pending, Berg said, Ellifritz agreed not to minister publicly, including saying Mass.
He said Ellifritz is no longer living at St. Mary Magdalene. A woman who answered the telephone at the parish yesterday said the priest had gone to Florida and would not be back.
Berg conceded that the diocese has known of the allegations for some time. He said Ellifritz has been "under supervision" for years but would not say how long.
In most cases, a priest is placed under supervision because of misconduct. Usually, he is supervised by the bishop or the pastor of the parish where he is living or both.
At least one other priest in the diocese is known to be under supervision because of past misconduct involving young people.
A St. Mary Magdalene member who did not want her name used said yesterday that she had never heard discussion among parishioners of allegations against Ellifritz.
Columbus Bishop James A. Griffin was out of town yesterday and not available for comment, Berg said.
He said information about the Ellifritz case has been given to prosecutors in Franklin and Fairfield counties.
Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien did not return a phone call seeking comment. Prosecutors in Fairfield and other counties where Ellifritz has served could not be reached.
Ellifritz, 60, was ordained in 1967. He served at a number of parishes in the 23-county diocese, in some cases as pastor and others as an associate pastor.
Before stints as pastor in Wellston, from 1976 to 1982, and in Danville, from 1982 to 1987, he was at St. Joseph in Circleville, Sacred Heart in Columbus, St. Brendan in Hilliard and St. Mary in Lancaster.
After Danville, he was at St. John in Logan, and served as the diocesan director of rural life. He was associate pastor of St. Joan of Arc in Powell from 1990 to 1992, when he became a Riverside chaplain.
While at Riverside, he lived at St. Timothy and Christ the King churches, before St. Mary Magdalene.
Berg said he did not know how soon the diocesan review board will be operating.
It must have at least five members, including a majority of lay people not employed by the diocese, and will investigate both past and future allegations of sexual misconduct involving priests.
In addition to the Ellifritz allegations, the board will be looking at the case of Monsignor Joseph Fete, who was removed as pastor of a West Side parish in April because he sexually abused a teen-age boy from 1976 to 1979.
Fete has been appointed director of ecumenical affairs for the diocese but will not start the job until his case is resolved, the diocese has said.
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