Archbishop Oscar H. Lipscomb announced late Wednesday afternoon that he dismissed the Rev. Arthur C. Schrenger from the ministry after the priest “confirmed two instances of misconduct with minors prior to 1985.”
In a prepared statement, Lipscomb did not elaborate on the nature of the misconduct, but said he acted Tuesday in keeping with new church laws that require priests be removed after “even a single act of sexual abuse of a minor past, present or future.”
Lipscomb said he turned over information about Schrenger, as well as Brother Victor Bendillo, who had a longtime assignment to Mobile’s McGill-Toolen High School, to Mobile County District Attorney John M. Tyson Jr. Tuesday.
The Mobile Register spoke Wednesday with a man who alleges that while he was a student at McGill-Toolen 12 years ago, Bendillo sexually abused him. The Register plans to publish an account of his story in upcoming days.
Also Wednesday, Lipscomb stated he misspoke when he said he transferred the Rev. J. Alexander Sherlock from Mobile to Montgomery in 1997 after having learned of a sex abuse allegation against him.
The move had angered some area Catholics who believed Lipscomb was shuffling an abusive priest from one parish to another. About 150 priests are assigned to the Archdiocese of Mobile, which is home to some 64,000 Catholics.
Tyson said the archdiocese provided him with documents about Bendillo, as well as two other area priests, the Rev. Eugene Smith and the Rev. Barry Ryan. Tyson said he had not received any documents regarding Schrenger.
The district attorney said he received archdiocesan documents concerning Bendillo, Smith and Ryan in response to an open-ended request for “all of their documents relating to Father Sherlock or any other priests with similar kinds of problems.”
Last month, Tyson opened a criminal investigation into sex abuse allegations against Sherlock, a longtime Mobile priest who resigned from the priesthood effective Feb. 28. Lipscomb said Sherlock has admitted sexually abusing three “older teenagers.”
Tyson said Wednesday he had received “supplemental information” about Sherlock from the archdiocese.
According to the Code of Alabama, there is no statute of limitations for prosecuting sex crimes that occurred after Jan. 7, 1985, and involved victims under 16.
Smith, who is listed as “Absent” on the archdiocesan Web site, could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Ryan was not listed on the Web site and also could not be located for comment.
In his statement, Lipscomb offered few details about the allegations against Schrenger and Bendillo. The archbishop was not available for comment Wednesday evening.
Lipscomb said the archdiocese received information Tuesday “prompting an immediate investigation” into Schrenger. When asked, Schrenger “confirmed two instances of misconduct with minors prior to 1985,” Lipscomb said. Schrenger has worked with the Metropolitan Tribunal of the Archdiocese since 2001, and has been removed from that position, Lipscomb said.
A tribunal is the church court for a local Roman Catholic diocese. It adjudicates internal church legal affairs, including petitions for declarations of nullity of marriage.
Schrenger, who in 1998 was the pastor of Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Montgomery, was dismissed from “all priestly and public ministerial duties ef fective April 1, 2003,” according to Lipscomb’s statement. Schrenger could not be reached for comment.
A verbal complaint of abuse against Bendillo, who is affiliated with the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, was received July 20, 1998, the archbishop said. Lipscomb said that “in concert with his religious superior, he was immediately removed from ministry.”
A Web site for the Brothers of the Sacred Heart Foundation in Baton Rouge, La., however, stated that Bendillo was assigned to Our Lady of the Lake Hospital in Baton Rouge. It is not clear when that site was last updated and it does not describe the nature of his duties.
After Bendillo’s dismissal, Lipscomb said, he received three additional complaints against him; Lipscomb said all complainants have requested and received anonymity.
Bendillo could not be reached for comment, but Brother Ivy LeBlanc, provincial of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart in New Orleans, released a statement late Wednesday.
LeBlanc did not mention Bendillo by name, but stated: “The care of young people has always been the primary concern of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, the recent allegations of sexual abuse sadden our entire province and we deeply regret them. We consider the alleged abuse an affront to our ministry and opposed to all for which we stand. We have not and we will not tolerate such abuse.”
Lipscomb said he also provided Tyson with information about Honey Weiss, a 47-year-old Mobile woman who Tuesday publicly accused the Rev. Adrian Cook, pastor of St. Maurice Catholic Church in Brewton, of sexually abusing her in the early 1970s. At the time, Weiss said, she was 19 and Cook was in his late 20s.
Tuesday, Cook acknowledged that he had sex with Weiss, but said it was consensual. He also said he had fathered a child by another woman.
Tyson said he did not think he had received information from the archdiocese about Weiss.
During a March 18 news conference, Lipscomb said he received the first allegation of abuse by Sherlock in February 1997. The victim’s counselor informed Lipscomb of the incident, which occurred during the mid-1970s, Lipscomb said then.
Lipscomb also said he and Sherlock discussed the allegation extensively before he moved Sherlock from St. Pius X Catholic Church in Mobile to Montgomery in July 1997.
On Wednesday, Lipscomb said he did not receive information about the victim until 1998.