Bishop Apologizes, Says Reinstating Priest a Mistake

By Clayton Bellamy
Associated Press State & Local Wire [Tulsa, Okla.]
July 30, 2002

A Roman Catholic bishop apologized Tuesday for a former Oklahoma priest's "inappropriate behavior" with young boys and said reinstating the pastor after the allegations surfaced was a mistake.

Bishop Edward Slattery, of the Diocese of Tulsa, said he never reported the allegations against the Rev. Kenneth Lewis to authorities because he had no evidence the priest committed any crimes.

Slattery said he was following the advice of church lawyers and other advisers when he returned Lewis to duty after the priest underwent psychiatric treatment for giving back rubs to young boys in 1994.

Still, Slattery said he should not have reassigned Lewis to pastorate duties at different churches, given a national sex abuse scandal involving priests being transferred to other parishes after molesting children.

"If I had the information then which I have now, I would not have allowed Father Lewis to have returned to active ministry in 1995," Slattery said. "That was a mistake, but let me emphasize that we know of no misconduct which may have occurred since his return to active ministry."

Also Tuesday, the Tulsa Police Department said it has formed a task force to investigate possible molestation by a former Tulsa priest based on an allegation a young man brought forth Monday.

Police spokesman Sgt. Wayne Allen wouldn't identify the priest, but said the man, who was a boy at the time, reported being improperly touched by a priest who worked in Tulsa in the early to mid-1990s.

In addition, a 16-year-old Pryor girl has accused a former priest in that city of molesting her three years ago, the Tulsa World reported Tuesday.

Slattery spoke in response to a published report that he shifted Lewis to other churches despite allegations Lewis had intimate contact with adolescent boys.

A former employee of the Church of St. Mary in Tulsa, where Lewis was associate pastor, told diocese officials in 1994 of twice seeing Lewis alone with sixth- or seventh-grade boys, rubbing their backs, The Dallas Morning News reported Sunday.

A diocese investigation found that "there had been several incidents of questionable behavior with young boys including over-familiarity and a failure to recognize acceptable boundaries," Slattery said.

Lewis denied the allegations, saying what the former employee saw and other boys have alleged was just "the showing of physical affection toward young people in my parish."

"I have never, never had any sexual contact with a child or young person, period," Lewis said. "I have never done anything which could be considered sexual contact or molestation."

Slattery approved counseling payments for at least one boy's family and agreed to pay for another young man's anxiety medication, the News reported. Slattery said the church has not paid any cash settlements.

"I can only hope and pray that any families and any boys - now young men - who may have been harmed by Father Lewis can find a way to forgive me if what I have done is not adequate," Slattery said. "To you, I apologize from the bottom of my heart."

Lewis was sent for psychiatric care, and Slattery reinstated him at several Oklahoma churches under the condition that he not be alone with minors, the bishop said.

"He seemed to be fine," Slattery said of Lewis' condition after his treatment. "If you sat and talked with him, he seemed like a fine young man."

Lewis simultaneously served as pastor at Sacred Heart Church in Fairfax, St. Joseph Church in Cleveland and St. John's and St. Joseph's churches in Pawnee, Slattery said. He went to St. John's Church in McAlester in June 2001 but resigned without explanation last month.

The Pryor girl, who was 13 at the time, told the World the Rev. John Jangam of St. Mark's Catholic Church kissed and fondled her repeatedly during a six-week period three years ago.

The girl, who was not identified, and her mother, Linda La Porte, said the diocese urged the family not to discuss the case and did not report it to authorities.

Slattery said the diocese would investigate the girl's allegations and that Jangam was excommunicated from the church for unrelated reasons. After his removal as priest, Jangam lost his visa and had to return to India, where he is believed to be out of the priesthood, Slattery said.

Henry Harder, chancellor of the Tulsa Diocese, said the case never was reported to authorities because "her parents did not want it reported." Harder added the church has offered to pay her counseling.

Slattery also urged anyone who has been harmed by a priest or diocese employee to provide the information to the church and, if they believe a crime has been committed, to the authorities.


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