Five resign from diocese panel over priest's reinstatement

Sunday, August 18, 2002

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Diocese of Richmond lost all five lay members of its sexual abuse panel when they resigned to protest the reinstatement of a priest accused of abusing teenage boys in the 1970s.

The panelists had recommended in June that the Rev. John E. Leonard be removed from duty and hospitalized for counseling. But Bishop Walter F. Sullivan cleared the priest of the allegations and returned him to his suburban parish.

Panelists said Sullivan did not follow procedures and that they never received the investigative team's final report. Some also said they disagreed with the bishop's decision.

Leonard, who was put on leave in May when the investigation began, has denied the allegations.

Panel member Kathy Jones, who works for the state Department of Juvenile Justice, last week became the fifth member of the 10-person panel to resign. The others stepped down during the past several weeks. The remaining panelists are either priests or work for the Catholic diocese.

"I resigned because the process was not followed -- the same reason everyone else has given," Jones said Friday. She refused to discuss the case further.

Sullivan is on vacation and could not be reached for comment, the Rev. Pasquale J. Apuzzo, diocese spokesman, said Friday.

The investigative report concluded the accusers were believable, while Leonard's responses were not, according to The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk, which obtained a copy.

"While the accusers/victims know each other and have spoken to each other, we do not believe they have fabricated any of these accusations. They also indicate that there is a pattern of misbehavior here. This is not a one-time incident," the report said.

Leonard's lawyer, James C. Roberts, declined to comment Friday on the panel members' resignations. He previously has said he instructed the priest not to discuss the allegations.

In other developments:

A former altar boy sued the Boston archdiocese and a high-ranking official, Monsignor Michael Smith Foster, who he says molested him repeatedly 20 years ago. The lawsuit alleges church officials were negligent in their supervision.

Foster, judicial vicar and presiding judge of the archdiocese's Metropolitan Tribunal, remains at work, archdiocese spokeswoman Donna Morrissey said. She declined to comment on the allegations.

The San Francisco archdiocese placed a priest who serves as the police department's chaplain on leave while Child Protective Services investigates a complaint he molested two brothers 40 years ago.

Monsignor John P. Heaney, 74, has been department chaplain for 35 years. "He has done nothing wrong," his attorney, Jim Collins, said.

In Illinois, Gov. George Ryan signed a law requiring clergy to report cases of child abuse to authorities. The law does not apply to information learned during religious activities, such as confession, which critics call a significant loophole.

The law adds clergy to the list of professions who must report suspected cases of abuse to the Department of Children and Family Services. Failure to report would be punishable by less than a year in jail.

The chief justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court sealed parts of a lawsuit against the Lexington diocese for 10 days to give the full court time to decide whether the documents should be publicly disclosed. The diocese wants to keep parts of the suit closed, which alleges the diocese failed to respond properly to abuse allegations, allowing the abuse to continue.

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