Parish Rallies behind Its Former Priest
Fort Edward Members of St. Joseph's Church Seek to Help Rev. Rosch after He Was Removed

By Andrew Tilghman
Times Union (Albany, NY)
July 23, 2002

Catholic parishioners in Fort Edward are rallying behind their former priest, helping him move into a new apartment and even hoping he may someday return to the pulpit less than a month after he was removed for child sexual abuse.

Members of St. Joseph's Church in this small Washington County town are planning a "kitchen shower" Aug. 2 to help the Rev. James Rosch furnish the four-room apartment he rented after he had leave the rectory. Rosch has been sitting in the pews during Sunday services since his removal as head priest last month.

"I was just in tears because he has nothing and I said, 'Jeez, maybe we should have a kitchen shower for Father,' " said Francis Bowen, a church trustee who is organizing the shower. "I have a list of things: mops, brooms, Saran Wrap, Ragu sauce. You know, the things that you need to put in the cabinet."

Rosch, 55, was one of six priests from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany who were named publicly and removed from active ministry last month because they had sexually abused minors in the past. The priests are barred from wearing their collar or celebrating Mass in public.

Rosch will be replaced this week by the Rev. Joseph Dworak, who has been a chaplain at St. Mary's Hospital in Amsterdam.

Church officials said Rosch still is considering whether to formally remove himself from the priesthood entirely, by a process known as laicization, or to seek a life or "prayer and penance," in accordance with the church's new policy for priests who sexually abused minors.

The scene in Fort Edward of widespread support for a priest with a history of child sex abuse is an increasingly common one at churches nationwide, as parishes directly affected by the "zero-tolerance" policy adopted by U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Dallas last month question its sweeping impact.

"It's happening all over the county. It's an interesting phenomenon that most people in the pews feel they support the idea of zero tolerance -- except when its their pastor, except when they know the priest personally," said the Rev. Thomas Reese, publisher of the Catholic magazine, America.

Some St. Joseph's parishioners said they believed that the Rosch's sexual misconduct involved a single incident with an older teenager that occurred 24 years ago.

"One of the things we are trying to do is find out from the diocese what he can do and can't do, and try to keep him involved in the parish," said Anthony Montello, who has a 14-year-old son and sits on the parish council. "We are hoping that everything may work out so that he can come back and be a priest."

Rosch has remained a prominent figure in the community at St. Joseph's. Last week, he played the guitar at an outdoor concert to help raise money for a local food bank. Rosch could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

As in other dioceses nationwide, Bishop Howard J. Hubbard and other church leaders in the Albany diocese have not issued a strict definition of "prayer and penance." The Rev. John Bertolucci, who was among the six removed, said he is living at his home in Catskill, celebrating Mass alone and ministering to friends.

"I think all over the country, the bishops are trying to figure out how to implement this policy," Reese said. "The priority of the bishops was, correctly, focused on prevention, to make sure that these priests would not be able to abuse others as a priest in the future."

"They are going to have to figure out the details of where do they send them, what do they do with them," Reese said.


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