Pastor Removed While Abuse Claim Investigated

By Dennis Mahoney and Geoff Dutton
Columbus Dispatch [Ohio]
July 28, 2002

The Roman Catholic pastor of Seton Parish in Pickerington has been relieved of his duties while the diocese investigates allegations of inappropriate conduct involving a minor.

Bishop James A. Griffin told parishioners at 5 p.m. mass yesterday that the Rev. Martin V. Weithman, pastor of Seton since late 2000, has been accused of inappropriate conduct and was placed on administrative leave.

Monsignor William J. Maroon, a visiting priest, also read a statement from Weithman in which the 47-year-old pastor denied the allegations.

Griffin said the case is being settled for $115,000, and said he hoped the parish would support Weithman once this matter is resolved.

Weithman, in his statement, threatened to sue his accuser for defamation of character, a parishioner who attended last night's mass said.

The Dispatch has learned Weithman is accused of molesting a teen-ager over a six-year period in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The man is now in his early 30s.

The accuser, who currently lives near Cleveland, is a graduate of Wehrle High School, a Catholic school on the South Side that closed in 1991.

Weithman, who was ordained in 1981, was chaplain at Wehrle, and was involved with the basketball team, including making trips to out-of-town tournaments. The man who has accused him of abuse played basketball at Wehrle.

Weithman for months has declined to comment on the allegations, referring all questions to his attorney, John Snider of Lancaster.

Reached last night, Snider wouldn't comment except to say all parties agreed to release statements on Monday.

The man who has accused Weithman was given and passed a lie-detector test, which was arranged by Daniel Volkema, the Columbus attorney he hired.

In an e-mail communication with The Dispatch in April, the man said a priest subjected him to "physical, mental and emotional abuse and manipulation" from 1986 to 1992.

Both he and Volkema had refused to identify the priest. Attorney Kevin Kerns, representing the diocese, couldn't be reached last night.

Last spring, about the time his accuser came forward to church officials, Weithman addressed the nationwide sex scandal among priests in a letter to parishioners, in which he said: "There are fewer breaches of trust greater than when a priest is guilty of sexual abuse."

"People's respect for the clergy, their relationship to the church, and their faith in God is weakened, if not destroyed."

He also wrote that innocent priests are the object of false accusations.

"Many of us live in fear that we might be unjustly accused," he wrote. "The pastoral ministry of all priests is compromised when we have to be extra, extra careful in what we say to children, how we look at them, or how we reach out and touch them."

He wrote that priests "are very human beings. We are capable of doing what we know to be wrong. We, like everyone else, struggle with the power of evil and sometimes fail."

Weithman will remain on administrative leave, pending an administrative hearing.

The diocese has established a Diocesan Board of Review, which was created under mandates adopted last month by U.S. Catholic bishops to deal with priestly sexual misconduct.

Maroon, the visiting priest, will assume Weithman's duties until the case goes before the review board. A hearing date hasn't been scheduled, sources said.

Before serving at Seton, Weithman was pastor of St. Mary Church in Lancaster.

He also was the Columbus Catholic Diocese director of religious education for a time in the 1980s.

A parishioner, who didn't want to be identified, said Weithman "categorically denied" the allegations in his statement. Weithman's statement noted, the parishioner said, that he had passed a polygraph test, but that he couldn't say more based on the advice of his attorney.

Another parishioner, who also requested anonymity, said the church fell silent when the news was announced. "We were all in absolute shock," the parishioner said. "This is totally unbelievable."


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.