Sacred Heart Church
Diocese Bars Priest in '77 Abuse Allegation

By Dennis M. Mahoney
Columbus Dispatch (Ohio)
January 20, 2006

A Columbus Roman Catholic cleric has been barred from the priesthood because he sexually abused a minor nearly 30 years ago, the Diocese of Columbus said yesterday.

The Rev. Samuel Ritchey, pastor of Sacred Heart Church on the North Side since 1999, committed the abuse in 1977, a spokeswoman for the diocese said in a statement.

Robin Miller -- who would respond to questions only by e-mail -- refused to say whether the victim was male or female, or where the abuse took place, citing the victim's request for confidentiality.

In 1977, Ritchey was teaching at William V. Fisher Catholic High School in Lancaster and living at St. Bernadette Parish there.

Bishop Frederick Campbell made the decision to bar Ritchey after that action was recommended by the diocesan Review Board, which considered the case this week.

Yvette McGee Brown, chairwoman of the board, said yesterday that the abuse involved a male high-school student. She would not say whether Ritchey admitted the abuse.

Campbell refused to discuss Ritchey's case.

Only the Vatican can expel Ritchey from the priesthood, in a process known as laicization. But Campbell has the authority to prohibit him from performing any priestly duties and from representing himself as a priest.

Miller said a decision will be made later on whether to ask the Vatican to laicize Ritchey.

Ritchey, 62, was placed on leave Dec. 16, two days after the allegation was reported to the diocese. Questioned two weeks ago, the diocese would not discuss the reason for the suspension.

Ritchey did not return telephone calls seeking comment yesterday. Contacted two weeks ago, he confirmed he had been placed on leave but said he could not discuss his situation.

Miller said the diocese was offering assistance to the victim.

Bill Needles, a West Side resident and a member of Sacred Heart for 74 years, said he was surprised by the revelation about Ritchey. Parishioners have not been given a reason for the suspension.

Needles said Ritchey was well-liked by parishioners.

"He was always a loner, which most priests are. The thing was, any activity at the church, he was always right there. He was always backing us up on everything."

Needles said Ritchey always was concerned with the church's finances and did a lot of fundraising.

He last saw Ritchey the Sunday before Christmas, shortly after the priest had been suspended by Campbell.

"He seemed to be very depressed at that time, and he said he's no longer a priest," Needles said.

McGee Brown said the board did not know of any other allegations against Ritchey. She said members concluded that removing Ritchey was appropriate, even though the abuse occurred nearly 30 years ago.

"We as a board take these allegations very seriously," she said. "And if we find them to be credible, we believe that we should make sure that these people are not in a position to cause further harm."

David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said Campbell should have made Ritchey's name public weeks ago.

"It still feels like the reputation of an accused molester trumps the safety of innocent kids," he said.

Clohessy said Campbell should visit the parishes where Ritchey served and tell people to speak up about abuse.

Miller's statement said the diocese had reported the abuse to Children Services in Franklin and Fairfield counties.

Ritchey was ordained in 1973. Before coming to Sacred Heart, he was pastor at Corpus Christi Parish on the South Side.

Ritchey also served at St. Philip the Apostle Parish in Columbus and St. Mary in Bremen, and taught at Bishop Hartley High School from 1973 to 1975. From 1980 to 1982, he lived at St. Mark Church in Lancaster while teaching at William V. Fisher Catholic High School.

The statement said the diocese will go into the parishes where Ritchey served and invite victims to come forward.

Since 2002, three Columbus Diocese priests have been laicized.

Joseph Fete and Michael Ellifritz were kicked out by the Vatican for sexual abuse.

Martin Weithman was removed as pastor of Seton Parish in Pickerington by then-Bishop James A. Griffin in 2002 after he was accused of molesting a teenage boy, Dennis Palmer, in the late 1980s. The diocese paid Palmer $115,000 after he threatened to sue.

Although he maintained his innocence, Weithman reached a settlement with the diocese in 2004 and also was removed from the priesthood.


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