An allegation by a Michigan woman that she was molested by a priest more than 50 years ago appears to be credible, Bishop John D’Arcy said.
D’Arcy, bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, made the statements during three Masses on Saturday and Sunday at St. John the Baptist in New Haven.
Michele Bennett, who now lives in Battle Creek, Mich., disclosed in 1998 and again this past July that the Rev. William Ehrman molested her while she was a student at St. John the Baptist School about 50 years ago when she was 10 or 11, The Journal Gazette of Fort Wayne reported Monday.
Ehrman died in 1983.
The diocese issued a prepared statement Sunday stating that an internal investigation found Bennett’s allegations “appear credible under diocesan guidelines.”
The diocese is unable to say with certainty that Ehrman did molest Bennett because of the time that has passed and Ehrman’s death, said Christine Bonahoom-Nix, spokeswoman for the Catholic Communications office.
“What it means is that what they’ve determined through the investigation is that her claims seem credible,” Bonahoom-Nix said.
Bennett said the diocese’s acknowledgment provide her with closure.
“This was something I had to do to help myself put it all behind me,” she said.
Bennett said she had considered asking the diocese for monetary compensation, but that Sunday’s announcement, coupled with the presence of D’Arcy at the Masses, is all she needs.
“I need my spirit intact and my soul intact, and money can’t buy that,” she said.
Bennett believes the abuse began when she was 10 or 11 years old and continued for several years. She said Ehrman would invite her to the rectory and touch her between her legs and on her breasts.
Bennett said she has recently been in contact with other women who told her they, too, were abused by Ehrman as students at St. John the Baptist School.
Bennett said her faith has remained strong during the past 50 years and that she never considered leaving the Catholic Church. She also acknowledged that some people will choose not to believe the claims against Ehrman.
“I realize some people say he’s a good man and he probably was,” she said. “I’m sure his life wasn’t totally worthless, but there was this other side of him.”