Anger, Forgiveness, Hope As Catholic Priest Resigns

Virginian-Pilot(Norfolk, Va.)
August 6, 2003

The Rev. Dwight E. Shrader is a dynamic Roman Catholic priest who oversaw the founding of a Virginia Beach parish and school, counseled parishioners and devoted himself to his community.

Father Shrader is a man whose verbal and physical contact with adolescents was inappropriate, wrong and unseemly. His actions amounted to sexual misconduct.

For the parishioners at St. John the Apostle Church, it's difficult to reconcile these two starkly different images of Shrader. The dedicated pastor is the popular one the parish knew and trusted. It's the other unsavory one who now has been forced to leave the priesthood.

A Diocese of Richmond Review Board last week unanimously recommended Shrader's ouster following an investigation of five sexual-abuse complaints. Bishop Walter Sullivan followed the board's advice and forced Shrader to resign.

The diocese gave out but a few sparse, yet condemning, details: The incidents occurred when the five were adolescents in the past six years; four were boys under 18 and most were members of the parish; the abuse was primarily in the form of "sexually charged conversations" of a verbal nature inappropriate between an authority figure and children; there was some physical contact, but neither intercourse nor oral sex; no legal action is being sought.

Shrader basically confirmed to interviewers on the lay Review Board that the characterizations were true. Had the priest contested the allegations, Sullivan would have faced greater scrutiny over his ruling.

In the past year, Sullivan has expelled four priests for sexual misconduct. In comparison to the stumbles and missteps in one earlier investigation that raised questions about the bishop's commitment to zero tolerance for clergy abuse, the diocese acted with surehanded swiftness this time around. The bishop received a report about alleged sexual misconduct in late May, withdrew Shrader from the parish and forwarded the complaint to the Review Board. Sullivan ruled on the issue in about two months. The diocese's best hope for removing the cloud over its virtuous priests is to root out these aberrations relentlessly and unambiguously.

Among the parishioners of St. John's, the disclosure of the number and nature of complaints dissolved the benefit of the doubt that many had given Shrader after the investigation was launched. And it triggered a wave of concern for his unidentified victims.

News reports suggest that the scandal shook the parish's faith in Shrader, but not in the church that he so tirelessly built over the past 14 years. That may be the best that Church leaders can hope for, as Catholics everywhere reassess their dependence on their spiritual leaders. The bishop has promised the parish a new pastor by Labor Day. That gives the parish hope for a new beginning.


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