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Priest On Leave In Wake of Allegation

Jan 30, 2003 | Lorain Morning Journal The Rev. Philip S. Feltman, pastor of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Sandusky, will be placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of a review of an ''allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor,'' according to a statement from the priest.

In his statement issued yesterday, Feltman said he ''emphatically'' denied the allegation, which he said is a 30-year-old allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor that has been lodged against him. The statement said the Toledo diocese will convene an ecclesiastical panel essentially a church trial to hear testimony and weigh evidence.

''I emphatically deny this allegation with every fiber of my being,'' said Feltman, who has worked in the Toledo Diocese for 37 years and was previously pastor of St. Mary's Church in Vermilion.

''I am truly beyond shocked, I'm just numb right now, not fully understanding how or why this allegation has been made. I have and will continue to assert my innocence of this allegation,'' he said in the statement.

''I do not know how long the process will take, but look forward in the end to clearing my name and returning to my work in Sandusky,'' he statement concluded.

Feltman, a native of Toledo, was not available for additional comment last night, according to a worker at St. Mary's Church who declined to be identified. She said the allegation was taken to the diocese, but deferred additional comment to diocesan officials, who were not available for comment last night.

In the five-paragraph statement, Feltman said he is still pastor of St. Mary's, though on administrative leave, and outlined diocesan procedure for dealing with the allegation.

The Diocesan Review Board has met and ''in light of possible support for the allegation,'' recommended convening the ecclesiastical panel, Feltman said. The diocese, headed by Bishop James R. Hoffman, will appoint the panel sometime in March, Feltman said.

Administrative leave is not a penalty ''but instead a wise policy that says that Ôuntil the complete evidence is heard and considered, for the safety of our children, the accused should be temporarily away from the parish,''' Feltman wrote. ''I am still pastor of St. Mary's during this time and I support this policy because it is critical to protect children and also to maintain the long-term trust and confidence of all Catholics.''

Feltman also referred to the unification of Sandusky's Catholic schools, which last year merged to operate as a single school district now in its first school year.

''My greatest regret about this allegation is that it comes at a time when the Sandusky Catholic community has united, both in the Sandusky Catholic School and the ongoing capital campaign, ÔUniting in Faith,''' Feltman said. ''So many good women and men have given so much of their time, talent and treasure toward these efforts. I pray that the Catholics in Sandusky will continue to move forward on this very important undertaking for the Sandusky Catholic Community.

''I appreciate the support of the parish staff and parish and school councils expressed to me when I made this known to them this week,'' Feltman said. ''I humbly request your prayers and support during this trying time.''

One parishioner said Feltman has the church community behind him.

''I just want to say that we support him,'' pastoral council member Gayle Jeffrey said about Feltman. ''All I can say is that we love him. I support him.''

The allegation comes as the second in about four months of sexual abuse involving the church.

In September, six people filed a lawsuit alleging St. Mary's Church and the Toledo Diocese covered up years of sexual abuse by former priest Dennis Gray.

In lawsuits filed at Lucas County Common Pleas Court, six people accused Gray of molesting boys at the St. Mary's rectory and at a cottage in Crystal Lake, Mich., beginning in 1975, according to court records.

The lawsuits claim that the diocese and St. Mary's failed to report Gray's conduct to law enforcement officials, victims, prospective students, current students, their families and parishioners. The victims were 12 to 15 years old at the time of the alleged incidents, according to court records.

Gray, who left the priesthood in 1975, has denied the allegations, according to published reports.

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