At their Dallas meeting, the bishops opted for a tough zero-tolerance policy for sexual abuse. They scrapped their original provision that would have let a priest with a one-time offense in the past be monitored and continue in ministry. While some applauded the bishops’ action, the reality of what it means is hitting home hard at more that a few parishes across the country that find themselves losing their priests. This story is just a sample.

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Post-Dallas: Aftermath

Instances of priests being removed from parishes for past sexual offenses against minors are receiving media coverage across the country. A sampling of these cases follows:

The Chicago Tribune reported June 23 that Chicago Cardinal Francis George has removed eight priests from ministry for acts of sex abuse of minors. Five of the priests have said they will appeal George’s action to the church tribunal, which most often handles annulment proceedings. One of those priests is Fr. John Calicott, pastor of Holy Angels Parish in Chicago, who was removed for abusing two 15-year-old boys in 1976. He was suspended from ministry after that offense became known and received an extensive psychiatric evaluation. He was reinstated in 1995 by George’s predecessor in Chicago, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, after Calicott’s doctors determined he was no longer a significant risk to children. Some Holy Angel parishioners told the Tribune they plan to fight Calicott’s removal. “If necessary, we’re going to get a group to Rome, because this is a witch hunt,” said Juanita Whiteside, who has attended the parish for 27 years.

Like Calicott, Frs. Daniel Buck, John Keehan and William Lupo were removed from parishes. Frs. James Ray, Thomas Swade and Richard Bartz were removed from other archdiocesan positions. Fr. Daniel Holihan, 72 and previously retired, held no active position. The other four priests appealing their removals are Keehan, Buck, Ray and Swade.

A June 17 New York Times story reported that Fr. Thomas DeVita was suspended from ministry at St. Mary of the Lake Parish in New Buffalo, Mich., June 16 for sexual abuse of an altar boy in 1978. The priest had previously been evaluated at a psychiatric facility and judged to be of no danger to children. He publicly admitted to the crime four years ago and had been forgiven by many parishioners and church leaders at that time.

In a widely reported story, Fr. Michael Allen was told he would be removed from St. Peter’s Church in Celestine, Ind., June 20 for sexual abuse of a 16-year-old boy committed in 1976. Allen received psychiatric treatment after the abuse became known, was later deemed of no further danger and returned to parish work. At St. Peter’s he apologized to parishioners for the offense. Evansville Bishop Gerald Gettelfinger had previously said he wanted to keep Allen in ministry, citing his repentance and strong leadership, but removed him following the passage of the charter.

-- Gill Donovan

National Catholic Reporter, July 5, 2002