Suspended Priest Found Guilty of Public-Indecency Charge

By Kevin Mayhood
Columbus Dispatch (Ohio)
November 21, 2003

A suspended Roman Catholic priest who last year admitted to sexual contact with a teenager in the 1970s pleaded no contest yesterday to an unrelated charge of public indecency.

Monsignor Joseph N. Fete of Columbus is in a four-month treatment program to address the issues that led to his crime, said his attorney, Steve Larson.

Larson said the program is outside the state but would not say where. Fete does not plan to return to Ohio, he said.

Fete, 55, did not speak in court yesterday other than to enter his plea. But he got an earful from Franklin County Municipal Judge Julie Lynch.

"I appreciate you have voluntarily put yourself in a program, but public indecency is particularly appalling in a public park," she said.

"We all, as taxpayers, pay for that park."

She ordered him to stay away from Berliner Park as part of his yearlong probation, saying it was "even more shocking" that he chose that location to masturbate in his car.

"It's not like Berliner Park isn't in the paper every day. It's not like you're not going to get caught there," Lynch said.

Vice officers have made dozens of similar arrests at the South Side park through the years.

Police found Fete reclining in the driver's seat of his parked car, with his shorts open, on the afternoon of July 30. He was masturbating near the baseball fields, within 15 feet of passing cars.

After finding him guilty, Lynch ordered Fete to pay a $250 fine and suspended a 30-day jail sentence, which the judge said she would impose if he repeats the offense during the next year.

Fete's troubles with the Columbus Diocese surfaced last year. He was removed as pastor of St. Margaret of Cortona Church on the West Side after admitting that he had repeated sexual contact with an adolescent boy from 1976 to 1979.

The church last year began the process of laicization, or removing him from the priesthood. That process continues, a diocesan spokeswoman said.


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