Archbishop Hughes, Priests Tackle Scandal
12 New Orleans priests under scrutiny: 2 to be removed
from duty, other 10 inactive
05/17/02 - By Bruce Nolan, The Times-Picayune
While Archbishop Alfred Hughes told a closed meeting of hundreds
of New Orleans priests to take heart in the face of the most demoralizing
crisis ever to strike the American Catholic Church, his spokesman
told the city Thursday a review the careers of more than 1,000 clergymen
found that 12 may have sexually abused children in the past 50 years.
Two of those 12 work now and will be relieved of duty soon, said
the Rev. William Maestri, who declined to provide their names.
The other 10, also unnamed, are retired, inactive or on restricted
duty so "there's no danger of children coming in contact with
these particular individuals," he said. They, too, will soon
be prohibited from saying Mass and performing the sacraments where
that applies, he said.
Maestri said he would not identify the two priests about to be
relieved of duty because certain arrangements have yet to be made.
In one case, parishioners will be told this weekend, he said.
Maestri also disclosed for the first time that the archdiocese
has paid about $420,000 for therapy for alleged abuse victims since
Church records indicate the archdiocese and its insurers also have
paid about $500,000 in the same period to settle damage claims from
lawsuits brought against the church, he said.
All the disclosures were the first of their kind for an archdiocese
that closely guards its administrative and financial workings.
The package of disclosures came as the archdiocese unveiled the
results of a monthslong review of sex-abuse complaints by an 11-member
board of laypeople led by former state Attorney General William
The review disclosed that in more than half of the cases presented
to it -- 12 out of 20 complaints -- the laypeople urged sterner
action than that taken by earlier archbishops.
Hughes' willingness to follow up shows "a growing awareness"
of the weight of the scandal, Maestri said.
Archbishop, priests meet
While Maestri briefed a news conference, Hughes and former Archbishops
Francis Schulte and Philip Hannan assembled with about 300 priests
in a nearby room at Notre Dame Seminary.
There Hughes disclosed the Guste report's findings to them, "affirmed
their solidarity in the priesthood, told them the importance of
their common work together . . . and how serious is this scandal
that has touched the church," Maestri said.
Maestri also said Hughes will:
-- Establish a sexual abuse hotline in the first week of June staffed
by professionals to gather complaints against priests or other archdiocesan
-- Publish a letter to be read this weekend to all local Catholic
congregations describing the report's findings, as well as a lengthier
pastoral letter next week in the archdiocesan newspaper, the Clarion
-- Declare a week of prayer for "forgiveness, reconciliation,
renewal and concern for priests and victims" starting the first
Sunday in June.
Taken together, the initiatives represent the archdiocese's long-awaited
local response to national revelations that some Catholic priests
abused children for years and frequently were shuttled among parishes
by bishops who thought medical treatment could cure them of their
Parishioners rarely were informed of a problem priest's past, nor
were civil authorities usually notified even when priests admitted
Hughes issues 3rd apology
Maestri's summation of the Guste report began with a written apology
by Hughes, his third since the scandal broke in January, just days
after he became archbishop of New Orleans.
"I apologize for the actions, my own and others, in returning
offending priests to parish ministry," Hughes wrote. "We
failed to protect the innocents among us, our children. I ask your
The church now understands that such transfers were "a terrible
wrong that should never have been done," Maestri said. And
while the church formerly routinely shielded those accused from
scrutiny by local law enforcement officials, "we have come
to the recognition that investigating is not the sole activity of
the church," he said.
Nationally, reviews such as the one Hughes commissioned have become
common in dioceses as bishops have sought to recapture public confidence
in their management. A count by the Associated Press in late April
found that 177 priests had been suspended nationally as a result
of such reviews.
In many cases, dioceses automatically shared all old complaints
with local law enforcement as a further gesture of openness.
Maestri said church authorities here have begun contacting people
who made complaints against the 12 priests to remind them they may
take their cases to police.
"If victims give us permission and relieve us of any confidential
understanding that they have, then we will be contacting civil authorities,"
More than 1,000 careers
The long review of personnel files, first announced in February,
involved the careers of about 600 diocesan priests, 220 permanent
deacons, almost 200 priests from religious orders now at work in
the archdiocese, as well as several hundred religious order priests
who served part of their careers outside of New Orleans.
Months ago, Hughes asked the leaders of religious orders with priests
in New Orleans to tell him about any complaints of alleged sexual
abuse by those men. He relied on those reports in recent weeks to
suspend three priests -- the Rev. Charles Coyle, a Jesuit; the Rev.
C. Richard Nowery, a Holy Cross priest; and the Rev. Joseph F. Pellettieri,
a Redemptorist -- on allegations that developed outside of New Orleans.
Hughes also said in March that church officials would forward all
"credible" complaints in local priests' files to the Guste
commission for inspection. But Maestri on Thursday said the commission
got every complaint in every file -- 20 in all -- apparently without
Of the 20, Maestri said, the independent review panel found:
-- Six were not credible.
-- Two "do not seem credible," with investigations continuing.
-- Two "seem credible," with investigations continuing.
-- Ten, involving eight priests and two deacons, are considered
Maestri said the 10 men in the last category, all with limited
public contact, are being stripped of their duties if that has not
already happened. Among those, presumably, is Monsignor John C.
Sax, who Wednesday admitted molesting a child for years at St. Peter
Church in Reserve, and who now does limited ministry at a retirement
home for priests in Marrero.
Victims' groups often have urged publication of names of known
abusers, in part to signal their victims still in hiding to come
forward to seek healing.
While recognizing that argument, the archdiocese's position is
"that there's nothing per se to be gained in releasing these
names," especially because the men no longer have contact with
children, Maestri said.
Bruce Nolan can be reached at email@example.com or (504)
© The Times-Picayune.