Parish Backing Priest with Letters, Ribbons

By Van Wert
Associated Press State & Local Wire
March 19, 2003

Blue ribbons are tied to the doors of the St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church.

They are a show of support for a priest who has been on a leave of absence since January after being accused of sexually abusing a teenager in the 1980s.

Church members have written letters to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Toledo asking that the Rev. Joseph Schmelzer be reinstated. A deacon in the church wears a pin that reads "in solidarity with our priests."

"We hope and pray he is returned to us," said parishioner Pat Keber. "We feel it can't hurt anything to remind them that he is greatly supported by the parish."

Mary Pohlman said Schmelzer is the best priest she's seen at the church that she has attended for 56 years.

"It just isn't the same going to church anymore," she said.

Schmelzer was accused of abusing a teenager from 1983 to 1985. Jon Schoonmaker, of Adrian, Mich., said the priest began touching him when he was 16. He said the priest gave him alcohol and molested him when he was 19.

Schoonmaker said the abuse began when Schmelzer was assigned to St. Clement's church in Toledo. Schmelzer also has been at churches in Tiffin, Sycamore, Fostoria, Custar, Deshler and Payne.

Schmelzer denies the allegations. His attorney, Richard Karcher of Toledo, said the priest was cleared of the charges when they were first leveled a decade ago.

Schmelzer's case now will go before a panel of priests. The most severe possible punishment in such cases is removal from the priesthood. The Rev. Thomas Quinn, a spokesman for the Toledo diocese, said the panels won't be ready to hear cases until June.

Christopher Golliver has known Schmelzer since the priest's first day in Van Wert in the summer of 1996.

"He is truly a godsend to the parish," Golliver said. "Now it is our chance in the middle of this turbulent sea for us to come together and reflect what good Father has done for us."

Keber said she doesn't understand why Schmelzer couldn't continue to work in the church until someone had proved him guilty.

It has been difficult to run the parish in his absence, she said. Keber said it was hard at first to get replacement priests, leaving the deacons to conduct communion services instead of a Mass until then.

"No one will ever take Father Schmelzer's place. He is a wonderful priest," Keber said.


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