Panel Clears Accused Priest
Ryan May Resume Pastoral Duties at St. Denis Parish

By Gregory A. Hall
Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY)
October 24, 2003

Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly has returned a priest accused of sexual abuse to his duties as pastor at St. Denis parish after a diocesan review board found that the allegations against the Rev. Donald Ryan could not be substantiated.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville's Sexual Abuse Review Board substantiated claims against seven other priests, whose church-law cases will be sent to the Vatican. The seven could be dismissed from the priesthood.

They include the Rev. Louis E. Miller, who is in prison after pleading guilty to sexually abusing children in Jefferson and Oldham circuit courts, and the Rev. Daniel Clark, who was convicted of abusing children for the second time this year.

Kelly sent a letter dated Tuesday to St. Denis parish members announcing that Ryan was being restored. The archdiocese released that letter and a statement from the St. Denis parish council in support of Kelly's decision.

"Members of the council shared their appreciation for all Father Ryan has done for the parish and look forward to celebrating Mass with him this weekend," the statement said.

The St. Denis parish office referred calls about Ryan to the archdiocese.

The decision was met with disbelief by one of the two plaintiffs who filed civil lawsuits against the archdiocese earlier this year, alleging abuse by Ryan in the 1960s and a cover-up by the archdiocese.

Both plaintiffs, Raymond Wilberding and Richard Lanham, are part of the $25.7million settlement that the archdiocese reached with 243 victims.

"I'm just really disappointed, and I can't believe that they would do something like this," Wilberding said in a telephone interview.

Lanham could not be reached for comment at a telephone number provided by his attorney.

A statement from the archdiocese's review board said it recommended returning Ryan to ministry after conducting its own investigation with two psychological assessments of the priest, an interview with Ryan and after the two accusers did not cooperate with the investigation.

Lanham did not file responses to questions from the archdiocese's attorneys in his court case. The other, Wilberding, declined to be interviewed by the board.

Wilberding said he declined the interview on the advice of his attorneys.

Ross Turner, one of Wilberding's attorneys, said yesterday that the archdiocese approached his client while the settlement talks were under way. Because his case against the archdiocese still was pending, Wilberding was advised not to talk to the review board, Turner said.

Cecelia Price, spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said Wilberding was offered options for appearing before the review board, including having an attorney with him.

Turner said now would be the proper time for the board to meet with Wilberding because his lawsuit has been settled. The archdiocese, however, already has made its decision to return Ryan to his duties.

"This is business as usual," Turner said. "Investigations conducted in the dark and no action taken."

Price said the decision to reinstate Ryan was a separate issue from settling the lawsuits. "The task of determining whether a priest can continue in ministry requires an individual case review," she said.

The review board's statement outlined the steps it said were taken in the Ryan review.

Those included reviewing Ryan's work history, noting that he spent much of that time in ministry with youth and never received any other complaints. Ryan "emphatically denied" ever abusing anyone, the statement said.

The board's statement also said "numerous" people who have known Ryan through the years, including some who were children in his parishes, were interviewed. "Each of these witnesses offered very positive assessments of Fr. Ryan and his ministry," the statement said.

The other announcement by the archdiocese dealt with the board's substantiation of sexual abuse allegations involving seven priests - all of whom have previously been suspended from public ministry.

Besides Miller and Clark, they are Thomas Creagh, Joseph Herp, Robert Dollinger, Joseph Stoltz and Edwin Scherzer.

The findings mean that their cases will go the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which will determine their futures, said the Rev. Mark Spalding, the archdiocese's judicial vicar.

The submissions will include a statement of the allegations, similar to an indictment, an analysis of the case and recommendation from the archbishop, a statement by someone representing the accused priest and possibly a statement from the accused priest, Spalding said.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith could forward the case to the pope, form a tribunal for a decision or allow the archdiocese to form a tribunal, Spalding said. The priest could either be removed from the priesthood or ordered to live a life of prayer and penance, Spalding said. The latter option would leave the priest on the archdiocesan payroll and subject to the orders of the archbishop, Spalding said.


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