Church leaders have found some truth to accusations of sexual abuse against eight of its priests, according to documents from the Archdiocese of Louisville.
In nearly identical letters notifying the eight priests in July that they were being permanently removed from ministry, Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly wrote that, as required by a stricter policy on abuse adopted by Catholic bishops in June in Dallas, their removal followed “the admission or substantiation of any instance of sexual abuse of a minor.”
However, there is no indication in Kelly’s letters, for example, whether he based his decisions on some or all of the allegations in lawsuits, on criminal charges or on other information that hasn’t surfaced in court.
All eight priests are among those named in 186 lawsuits filed against the archdiocese this year, alleging sexual abuse by priests and church employees.
The Vatican last week called for further review of the bishops’ policy, raising the question of whether it would be revised to enable some priests to return to ministry despite past abuse. But Kelly said Friday the bishops plan to continue applying the policy while an American-Vatican task force reviews it.
Under the Dallas policy, such removals from ministry are permanent, though Kelly’s letters said he would contact the priests if the Vatican made changes in the policy that could affect their status.
Archdiocesan spokeswoman Cecelia Price declined to elaborate on the letters sent to the priests, saying the decision to remove a priest “is based upon a variety of factors. We cannot discuss (them) case by case because of pending criminal and civil cases.”
Three of the eight priests permanently removed from ministry face criminal charges Louis E. Miller, Daniel Clark and James Hargadon. The others are Thomas Creagh, Joseph Herp and Joseph Stoltz each of whom left jobs as parish priests earlier this year because of allegations of abuse and retired priests Robert Dollinger and Edwin Scherzer.
The archdiocese provided copies of the letters sent to the eight priests, dated July 22 or 23, to attorney William McMurry, who represents the majority of the plaintiffs suing the archdiocese. McMurry, who requested the documents as part of his investigation, provided The Courier-Journal with copies last week.
In the case of four of the eight priests, Creagh, Herp, Hargadon and Scherzer, the archdiocese previously said they were removed from ministry pending investigations and did not comment on the merits of the accusations or say whether the removals were permanent.
However, the archdiocese has previously said that Stoltz was removed after acknowledging sexual misconduct with a minor, and that it permanently removed Clark and Dollinger from public ministry several years ago and Miller this year because of accusations against them.
Under terms of the policy agreed to by the bishops this June, the eight men removed from ministry technically remain priests, but Kelly’s letters instructed them “not to celebrate Mass publicly, to wear clerical garb, or present yourself as a priest.”
The archdiocese will continue to provide “appropriate compensation and support,” the letters continue, and will offer counseling to the priests, who are to “lead a life of prayer and penance.”
The priests are not expected to seek any outside work, and must get approval from the archdiocese for any activities and living arrangements, Price said.
“The degree of monitoring needed will be determined on a case-by-case basis,” she said.
The eight priests declined to comment.