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Area Priest Faces Sex Abuse Allegation

Jan 14, 2003 | Oneonta Daily Star

A child sex abuse allegation against a local Catholic reverend dating back to the late 1950s in Brooklyn shut down two churches indefinitely, officials said Monday.

The Rev. Joseph Schuck, who retired to Unadilla in the 1970s, could not be reached Monday to comment on the allegation made against him. He is on administrative leave pending an investigation, Albany church officials said. He lives with his 99-year-old mother at Gilead House of Prayer in Unadilla, officials said.

Schuck served Sidney's Sacred Heart Church and its mission churches in Franklin and Unadilla as a weekend associate reverend until being placed on administrative leave, said the Rev. Kenneth Doyle, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany. He also served as chaplain to area Boy Scouts, officials said.

Since the allegation first came to the Brooklyn Diocese only about a week ago, Doyle said he did not know the specifics. He said the diocese honored the Brooklyn decision that the charge was credible before taking this action.

With Schuck's help, the Rev. Gordon Polenz of Sacred Heart Church in Sidney said he was able to keep St. Paul's Church in Franklin and St. Ambrose Church in Unadilla open.

But with the suspension, Polenz said the shortage of clergy will make it difficult to reopen other missions. He said parishioners will attend church at other locations, and Deacon Michael Donnell of Franklin will still be available for spiritual needs.

"They closed us down," said Donnell, who was at St. Paul's on Sunday. An Albany official, the Rev. Edward Dermeke, conducted the service and then announced Schuck's leave, Donnell said.

"My ministerial area will still be in Franklin," Donnell said.

"This allegation came out of nowhere," said Polenz, who said he started at Sacred Heart 161/2 years ago. "There is usually some indication that someone is abusing their power, but there was nothing in this case."

New church policies to deal with cases of sexual abuse involving priests have led to strict regulations, he said.

Doyle said the revelations of sexual abuse by priests that have been in the news for about a year may have led to the current charge.

"Publicity can create the courage to come forward," he said.

If Schuck is found guilty, he can't minister to anyone again, Doyle said. In the past, after approval by a counselor, a priest could minister in a hospital or nursing home setting, he said, but that has changed following actions by the church last fall.

The case will be decided by the Brooklyn Diocese, he said.

Parishioners of the churches where Schuck worked wouldn't talk about the charge Monday.

"Everybody is in shock right now it's like the death of a loved one," Polenz said. "In the short run, the situation hurts the church, but in the long run, it will make it stronger."

A team of counselors was available from Catholic Charities to talk with parishioners at each church, Polenz said, who added that some have used them.

In addition to his work with the churches, Schuck also served as a chaplain to the local Otschodela Council of Boy Scouts of America.

Tom Wright, executive director of the Scout agency, said Schuck "will be suspended while we review the allegations." If they are found to be true, Wright said, Schuck will be removed from Boy Scouts.

Schuck was not directly involved with youth, Wright said. Instead, he conducted such activities as Scout Masses and worked with adults.

Schuck was "well-respected" in the council, he said. "I was surprised to learn of the charge."

During Schuck's time in the Albany Diocese, Doyle said, there have been no allegations of sexual misconduct against him. But if there is anyone with information, they are asked to report it to Theresa Rodrigues, victim's assistance coordinator in the Albany Diocese, by phoning (518) 453-6646.

Messages left at Schuck's residence at noon and 3 p.m. were not returned. When called at about 6 p.m. there was a busy signal.

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