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Diocese Turns In Priest For '95 Case

Apr 12, 2002 | The Morning Call

The Allentown Catholic Diocese has suspended a priest accused of sexually abusing a child in 1995 and has reported him to authorities.

Another priest who allegedly abused a child more than 20 years ago was dismissed after diocesan officials found the allegation credible, the diocese also disclosed Thursday.

Since January, the diocese has taken action against six priests accused of sexual misconduct. Their names have not been disclosed.

At least 10 priests have been suspected of sexually abusing children in the diocese in the past 15 years. Church officials informed authorities only in the 1995 case.

Matt Kerr, spokesman for the diocese, said the diocese reported the 1995 case to the state Department of Public Welfare's ChildLine last Friday, a day after the complaint was received. He said the older case was reported Tuesday.

ChildLine cases are referred to county offices of children and youth services, which have up to 30 days to investigate.

Kerr would not say where the alleged abuse occurred.

''We reported this. We're not being secretive,'' he said. ''It's a police investigation. I don't in any way want to get in the way of that.''

As of Thursday, district attorneys in Lehigh, Northampton, Carbon and Schuylkill counties said they had not received abuse allegations against priests. In Berks, the only other county in the diocese, District Attorney Mark Baldwin did not return calls for comment.

The allegations are among hundreds that have surfaced against Catholic priests nationwide since Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston revealed in January that a pedophile priest there was shifted from parish to parish.

Kerr said the Allentown diocese was following the law in reporting the 1995 case, which might be prosecutable. Reiterating the diocese's concern for the privacy of the victims, Kerr would not provide the age of the victim in that case.

He said the diocese would provide ''ongoing pastoral care'' to victims, but couldn't say whether that care included counseling. As for the dismissed priests, they were relieved of their duties and will have no assignments in the diocese.

In February, the diocese dismissed four priests for sexual misconduct that allegedly occurred more than 20 years ago. Kerr said the diocese didn't report those allegations to police because the statute of limitations had run out.

Adults have until they are 23 to file a complaint for sexual abuse that occurred in their childhood.

Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli has asked the diocese for the names of the four priests and a fifth who was dismissed in 2000. The diocese has agreed to meet with Morganelli.

Morganelli said that if any of the crimes occurred in Northampton County, it would be up to him — not the diocese — to determine if the statute of limitations had run out.

Schuylkill County District Attorney Frank R. Cori doesn't plan to follow Morganelli's lead. He said Thursday that he would not investigate unless a complaint is filed in the county.

''If there is a bona fide complaint, we'll take a look at it, regardless of what the statute of limitations is,'' Cori said.

Carbon County District Attorney Gary Dobias said Thursday he wasn't sure how he will proceed with the diocese.

Lehigh County District Attorney James B. Martin said in February that the diocese told him no case occurred in Lehigh County.

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