priest led Mass in Texas
FW Diocese banned him from ministry after learning
of abuse link
Tuesday, June 29, 2004
By SUSAN HOGAN/ALBACH / The Dallas Morning News
A Catholic priest removed from ministry in Pennsylvania because
of sexual abuse allegations has been living in Dallas and
leading Mass at an Arlington parish for at least a year.
Officials at the Diocese of Fort Worth, which encompasses
Arlington, said they didn't know about the Rev. Christopher
Clay's activities at St. Mary the Virgin Catholic Church until
contacted this week by The Dallas Morning News. On Tuesday
the diocese's chancellor, the Rev. Robert Wilson, banned Father
Clay from further ministry.
"He did this without our knowledge or approval,"
Father Wilson said.
Father Clay didn't respond to an interview request. No one
answered the door of his Oak Cliff apartment.
The priest has not been accused of wrongdoing in Texas. The
Diocese of Scranton, Pa., said he remains under investigation
there. He was placed on leave two years ago after an allegation
of abuse was made by a man in his early 20s who said he'd
been molested as a teen.
Father Clay apparently had been leading Masses at St. Mary
the Virgin at the invitation of the Arlington parish's pastor,
the Rev. Allan Hawkins. Diocesan officials said Father Hawkins
never sought permission from them, as required by church rules.
Father Hawkins did not respond to interview requests.
David Clohessy of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused
by Priests, said many priests removed from ministry under
the 2002 sexual abuse charter adopted by U.S. bishops continue
to find their way into ministry because of leaders who skirt
Officials of the Dallas Diocese said they hadn't heard of
Father Clay. They added that he would not be allowed to participate
in any ministry in the diocese.
His background in Pennsylvania came to light locally through
Rachel Dillard of Dallas, who said she went to Father Clay
this month for instruction because she hoped to become a Catholic.
She said she conducted an Internet search on the priest out
of curiosity and was stunned to learn about the abuse allegation.
"He had told me he left Pennsylvania because of a dispute
with a conservative faction," she said. "He felt
they were obsessed with matters of sex."
James Early, chancellor of the Scranton Diocese, said Father
Clay had told him he had a job in Texas reviewing medical
"He should not be functioning in any capacity as a priest,"
Mr. Early said.
Last month, the Vatican authorized an ecclesiastical judicial
process against Father Clay and two other priests accused
of molesting the young man, now 23, according to a document
obtained by The News. He could be permanently defrocked.
Father Clay, who has maintained his innocence to Pennsylvania
authorities, was never sued or charged with a crime. But the
other two priests who were implicated are defendants in a
lawsuit in Pennsylvania.
In a deposition, the young man said of Father Clay: "He
proceeded to get me roaring drunk. I remember throwing up
in his room all over myself and him taking me into the next
room and undressing me and then I woke up naked the next morning."
James Bendell, the accuser's attorney, said Father Clay was
not named as a defendant because the case against the other
two priests was much stronger and involved "several overt
acts of molestation."
Asked whether Father Clay belonged in ministry, the lawyer
said: "No. Not only no, but hell no."
Members of St. Mary's described Father Clay as a dynamic
speaker with a keen intellect.
"He's excellent with the young people," Terry Southard
said. "They feel like they can talk with him."