Moynihan Tells Parish No One Has Passed Judgment on Priest

By Ryan Deuel
Press & Sun-Bulletin (Binghamton, NY)
March 1, 2004

MAINE -- The Most Holy Rosary Church was filled to near capacity Sunday as Bishop James Moynihan of the Syracuse Diocese addressed the congregation on why the Rev. Thomas Keating has been asked to take a leave of absence.

Moynihan took time out of the 8 and 10 a.m. Masses to acknowledge the pain confronting parishioners and the confusion besetting the church.

"I'm here because I wanted to be here with you in your hurt and pain," he said. "This was a heart-wrenching announcement. And I feel very much for all of you."

Keating, 63, was asked to step aside as the diocese completes an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct. Four women, including three sisters, from a Cortland parish have filed lawsuits in the past year claiming Keating molested them as youths during the 1980s. Keating has been the pastor at Most Holy Rosary since 1993.

Moynihan told parishioners that no one has passed judgment against Keating.

"The decision to ask Father Keating to step aside is not an assessment of guilt or innocence on the part of the diocese," he said. "We have taken this step to make sure the mission of this parish is not interrupted."

However, many did not agree with the diocese's decision.

Dorothy Winans said she learned nothing new from what Moynihan said Sunday.

"They're condemning him before they have all the information," she said. "He's already guilty before being proven innocent. Does (Moynihan) treat all his priests the same way?"

The diocese has announced that 13 priests are under investigation and that in the past two years 16 priests have been permanently removed.

Winans said she believes the decision to remove Keating should be left to the parish, not the diocese.

Kimberly Reger, a member of the parish council, also disagreed with the decision.

"We're wearing yellow ribbons to show our support for Rev. Keating," she said

Her husband, Paul, also defended Keating.

"We believe in his innocence," he said. "He remains the pastor of this church."

But the Regers and other church leaders ostensibly felt threatened by the recent attention on the church that followed Keating's suspension.

"This is a close community, and we want to keep it that way," she said.

Several church members have written letters to Moynihan and the diocese, protesting their decision. And Moynihan made an attempt to address their concerns.

"I draw great strength from this parish," he said. "You are a people of great faith and great charity. My prayer is that Keating is vindicated and returned to where he is so loved."

The Rev. Charles Opondo-Owora, who has been serving at St. Ambrose Church in Endicott and serves as the parochial vicar, will assume the position of administrator at Most Holy Rosary.

Moynihan said he was unsure when a ruling by the diocese review board would be made or how long Keating would remain on suspension.


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