Bishop Wilton Gregory has placed on administrative leave a 72-year-old priest pending a full investigation of allegations that he abused a minor three decades ago.
Parishioners of the 105-year-old parish, Our Lady of Lourdes in Sparta, Ill., were told over the weekend that Gregory in response to the recommendation of the Belleville Diocesan Fitness Review Board had placed their pastor, the Rev. William F. Rensing, on leave. He has moved out of the parish rectory.
Rensing was ordained a priest of the Belleville Diocese in May 1955. He is cooperating with the diocese, said a spokesman.
David Clohessy of St. Louis, national spokesman for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said, “I just hope that no one else has been abused by Rensing in the weeks, months, even years since the victim was abused, then got the courage to report.”
Gregory said his action followed Belleville diocesan policy established in April 1993. The Belleville Diocese removed 13 priests from public ministry over allegations of sexual misconduct in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and one last month.
“Each time we face an allegation of this nature, it is a difficult and traumatic event for the victim or victims, for their families, for our parishes, for the local community, and for the priests and their families,” Gregory said in a statement.
He released the statement hours after he arrived back in Belleville from Rome, where Vatican leaders demanded an expected revision of the proposed norms that bishops passed in June to accompany the Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children.
The Rev. Mr. J. Richard Downen, who had been serving as a deacon at the parish before undergoing surgery recently, said Rensing was well-liked.
Gregory and most of the diocese’s priests left Monday for Kentucky for the annual Belleville diocesan priests convocation. Sessions feature spiritual and educational renewal.
In his statement, Gregory said, “I will continue to act in the most forthright manner possible in responding to these cases where children may be at risk. We will continue to offer counseling for the victims and the priests.”
Steve Pona, St. Louis Metro spokesman for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said he hoped anyone else who may have been hurt by Rensing “comes forward now and begins to get the help and healing they need and deserve.”
The bishop and the committee welcome reports of clergy sexual misconduct with minors on the diocesan hot line, 1-800-640-3044.