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Sex Abuse Allegations Leave Alabama Parishioners Stunned

Apr 6, 2003 | AP For the first time, the priest sex abuse scandal has reached Alabama: Roman Catholics in the Mobile Archdiocese are grappling with a case involving several priests and questioning why the archbishop let at least one of them remain in the pulpit for years.

Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb, 71, stunned parishioners last month when he said he had left a priest in the ministry who admitted to sexually abusing young men.

Lipscomb, who issued a series of apologies as he met with distraught parishioners in recent weeks, turned over church files about the alleged sexual abuse to District Attorney John Tyson. No charges have been filed, but Tyson said the probe is ''open-ended.''

The investigation widened this week as new allegations surfaced about four other priests and a church employee at a school. Tyson said church officials have cooperated in turning over many files.

''It's really tragic what has happened,'' Lucy Walters said Thursday as she went into midday Mass at St. Pius X Church. ''I honestly don't think the bishop is at fault. Under the circumstances, he's handling it the best way it could be handled.''

Another parishioner, Catherine McDermott, said their congregation is ''stronger and closer'' because of the disclosures.

The diocese covers 28 Alabama counties with more than 65,000 Catholics. In editorials, the Mobile Register has urged Lipscomb to step down next year, ahead of his planned retirement; the Montgomery Advertiser said church officials should remove Lipscomb if he does not resign.

The criticism arose March 16 when Lipscomb disclosed that the Rev. J. Alexander Sherlock, a former pastor at St. Pius, had admitted in 1998 to sexual abuse of a teenage boy in the 1970s. Lipscomb allowed him to remain in the pulpit at a church in Montgomery, even after two more similar complaints dating to the 1970s were made.

When a fourth person complained of abuse, Lipscomb said he felt Sherlock had not been truthful and was allowed to resign. Details of that case were not disclosed.

Lipscomb said Sherlock, a priest for 37 years, underwent lengthy psychological evaluation and treatment in therapy and was allowed to stay on in recent years while under the care of a psychiatrist because his mental profile gave no sign of ''sexual deviation or other abnormal behavior.''

Sherlock, 62, who resigned Feb. 28, could not be reached for comment.

The Sherlock probe led to another priest's removal Tuesday. Lipscomb said he removed the Rev. Arthur Schrenger from the priesthood after Schrenger confirmed two instances of misconduct with minors before 1985.

Lipscomb said he has turned over to the district attorney the church files on two other priests whose names have surfaced in the Sherlock probe, but the allegations against them were not disclosed.

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