Roman Catholic Bishop J. Kendrick Williams resigned Tuesday amid accusations of sexual abuse, becoming the third U.S. bishop to step down in the scandal rocking the church.
In a statement, Williams, 65, denied abuse allegations brought against him by three plaintiffs.
“I do not want my resignation to give any credence to the allegations made against me,” Williams said in a statement released by the Catholic Conference of Kentucky.
“I offered my resignation to the Holy Father, stating that I believe that by my stepping down the diocese can rid itself of the cloud which hangs over it and me at this time. I agonize that while this process continues, the diocese suffers without a leader.”
The Vatican said Pope John Paul II accepted Williams’ resignation, submitted under church law for “illness or some other grave reason.”
Williams has been accused of abuse by three plaintiffs. He denied the charges and went on leave voluntarily under a diocesan policy that requires clergy to be removed from public duties while an accusation is pending.
Plaintiff James W. Bennett alleged Williams abused him in 1981 while Bennett was a 12-year-old altar boy. David Hall alleged Williams fondled him when Hall was an 18-year-old high school senior. A third plaintiff, Thomas C. Probus, accused Williams of making sexual comments to him during a counseling session.
Ordained a bishop on June 19, 1984, Williams was named the founding bishop of the newly established Diocese of Lexington. He was installed on March 2, 1988.
Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly of the Louisville archdiocese said Williams will be missed, and called his resignation “a personal loss for me as well.” Williams served as a priest in Louisville under Kelly for about two years.
“He has been a brother, counselor and friend to me for 20 years,” Kelly said. “May God bring peace to his pastor’s heart as he looks to the future. May we always remember the blessings that have come to us through his ministry.”
The resignation comes two days before American bishops meet in Dallas to decide on proposals to deal with sexual abuse in the clergy.
At least 225 of the nation’s more than 46,000 Roman Catholic priests have either been dismissed from their duties or resigned since the scandal began in January.
In March, the Rev. Anthony O’Connell resigned as bishop of Palm Beach, Fla., after admitting he abused a seminary student in Missouri more than 25 years ago. And last month, Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland’s resignation was accepted by the Vatican a day after he acknowledged paying a man $450,000 to settle a sexual misconduct allegation against him.
The Vatican cited Weakland’s age as an explanation. He had submitted a resignation request in April when he reached the mandatory retirement age of 75 and asked the Vatican to expedite it after the settlement became public.
Bishops in Poland and Ireland were also forced to resign this year in sex abuse scandals.
The scandal began enveloping the church after revelations that the Archdiocese of Boston had shuttled now-defrocked priest John Geoghan from parish to parish despite repeated allegations that he was a pedophile.
A panel of U.S. bishops has called for a zero-tolerance policy toward sex abuse and defrocking of any priest with more than one such incident in his past. The proposal will be taken up at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ meeting that begins Thursday.
In other developments in the abuse scandal:
In New York, Bishop Thomas Daily of Brooklyn was asked in a closed-door deposition about how he handled defrocked priest Geoghan when he was an official in Boston. Daily served there from 1971 to 1984. In March he said he regretted some of the decisions he made during that time.
In Chicago, Cardinal Francis George became one of the rare church leaders to agree with victims’ advocates in saying that any policy dealing with sexually abusive priests should also discipline bishops who fail to act on cases within their dioceses.
In Evansville, Ind., Bishop Gerald Gettelfinger, who has allowed two priests to remain active despite sexual improprieties, said he opposes zero tolerance. He said two priests in his diocese who were rehabilitated and assigned to new parishes after sexual misconduct are examples of successes that would have been impossible under such a policy.
The Archdiocese of Miami has turned over about 50 years of sexual abuse records to state prosecutors, Archbishop John C. Favalora said. Favalora would not say how many records, which include sealed settlements, he gave to the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office.
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