Priest accused of abuse returned to limited ministry

A Joliet-area priest removed from ministry over an allegation of sexual abuse has been reinstated because his alleged relationship with a teenager in the 1970s did not meet the criteria of a crime under church law at that time, according to the Joliet Diocese.

Starting this weekend, the Rev. F. Lee Ryan will minister to homebound parishioners of St. Edmund Catholic Church in Watseka, south of Kankakee, and St. Joseph Mission in Crescent City, the diocese said in a statement.

A spokesman for Joliet Bishop R. Daniel Conlon, who also serves as chairman of the Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People for U.S. Catholic bishops, declined to say whether a local review board had substantiated the allegation, but he said the decision to reinstate Ryan had been difficult.

"He will not return to (full) ministry, but he is being permitted (a) very narrow ministry," the statement said. "This was a very difficult decision. I believe it respects the law of the Church and protects children."

But church observers say the priest's reinstatement, no matter how narrow, is a backward step in the American hierarchy's handling of the church abuse scandal.

"This seems to be an unusual development," said Timothy Lytton, a professor at Albany Law School in New York and author of a book titled "Holding Bishops Accountable." "It is a change in the direction that the bish...


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