Priest removed after 'credible' abuse claim
Complaint is the the first against 35-year veteran of the archdiocese, the cardinal says

By Jeannie Kever and Richard Vara
Houston Chronicle
January 14, 2008

A priest who spent almost 35 years in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston has been removed from ministry after "credible evidence" emerged that he sexually abused a young male while pastor of Christ the King Catholic Church.

The Rev. Stephen Horn is accused of sexually abusing a minor between 1989 and 1993. He served at Christ the King from 1981 until 1994, when he moved to St. Luke the Evangelist Church in south Houston.

He was removed from St. Luke in November, after the alleged abuse was reported to the archdiocese.

"This is a day of sadness for us," Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo said at a news conference Sunday afternoon, just three months after he was named the first Roman Catholic cardinal in Texas.

DiNardo said the accusation, which the victim reported to the archdiocese's victim's assistance coordinator, was the first lodged against the 63-year-old Horn.

A letter from DiNardo explaining the allegations was read to parishioners of the two churches during Mass Saturday evening and throughout the day on Sunday.

"There was no hint," said Marie Flickinger, who has attended St. Luke the Evangelist since it was established more than 30 years ago. "Everyone has just been shocked. ... He is a very proper gentleman."

The accusation was investigated by a panel convened by the archdiocese, which determined "there was credible evidence for the abuse allegations," DiNardo said. "A reasonable conclusion (is) that some sexual abuse did take place."

DiNardo declined to describe the abuse or the relationship between Horn and his accuser, who is now an adult. He said he had no reason to believe that anyone else had been victimized by Horn but urged people to contact the archdiocese or police if they had any information.

Horn, who was ordained in 1973, had been on vacation in October; it was announced in November that he had gone on sabbatical, Flickinger said.

Prayers for accuser, priest

Parishioners at St. Luke prayed Sunday for both the accuser and for Horn, Flickinger said. "You hurt for him, too, not to take away from the victim. There is some compassion for Father Steve."

A new pastor will be recommended for St. Luke within a week, DiNardo said.

The cardinal declined to say where Horn is now, other than that he is receiving treatment and being monitored at an "appropriate facility."

He also sidestepped the question of whether Horn had admitted to the allegations. DiNardo said the matter had been referred to law enforcement and that he believed the statute of limitations has run out, meaning Horn would not face criminal punishment.

The Vatican will dictate the next step in dealing with Horn, DiNardo said.

The Rev. Guilio Veronesi, pastor of Christ the King, said he waited until the end of Sunday's 7 p.m. Mass to read the letter from DiNardo, hating to bear the bad news.

"We ... are very close to him," he said of Horn. "He did so great in this parish."

Church criticized

Flickinger said she was surprised by DiNardo's openness about the case, sending the letter to parishioners and even convening a news conference. But David Clohessy, national director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, suggested that the response was little more than savvy public relations.

The fact that the allegations were reported in November and not made public until now "is unconscionable," Clohessy said. "I think that is an inexcusable, self-serving delay."

It could mean additional victims spent time suffering unnecessarily in silence, he said.

Sunday's announcement was the latest in a series of revelations made since the U.S. Catholic Church was rocked by sex abuse allegations that first came to light in Boston in 2002. Since then, the church has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on financial settlements, legal fees and counseling for both victims and priests.

In July, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles reached a $660 million settlement with more than 500 people who alleged that they were sexually abused by clergy.

Counseling offered

DiNardo declined to give details of the archdiocese's interactions with the victim in the Horn case but said counseling is routinely offered in similar cases. He said "there has been nothing ... from the victim" to indicate he is seeking a financial settlement.

Before moving to Christ the King, a parish just north of downtown Houston, Horn served as an assistant pastor at parishes in Texas City and Galveston.

DiNardo acknowledged that the claim against Horn was painful for the church.

"The fact that we have been vigilant should help," he said. "These things can happen. I believe the overwhelming majority of our priests live out their priesthood in integrity."

The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston reported in January 2004 that 22 priests and four deacons had sexually abused 46 minors in the archdiocese during the previous 53 years - 80 percent of those cases happened before 1980 but weren't reported until the decade before the study - costing the archdiocese $3.6 million in settlements, counseling and legal fees. Chronicle reporter Richard Vara contributed to this report.


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