Two Lincoln Diocese priests will be placed back into ministry after being removed while sexual misconduct allegations were investigated; SNAP reacts
The Catholic Diocese of Lincoln in Nebraska will be reassigning two priests who were the subjects of investigations into sexual misconduct. According to the statements released by the Diocese, both Fr. Scott Courtney and Fr. Thomas Dunavan will now have limitations in place in their new postings. We remain concerned about the safety of parishioners and the public.
Fr. Courtney had been placed on leave in September 2018. A woman accused the clergyman of sexual misconduct during an August meeting with the Diocesan council. She also reported the incident to the police. Fr. Dunavan was accused of "sexual misconduct/grooming" of either a child or a young adult and was removed from ministry in 2019. That allegation was also reported to law enforcement.
Fr. Courtney will now be assigned to prisons, to nursing and retirement homes, and to provide administrative assistance to the chancery, effective January 2022. Information about his earlier postings can be found here. Fr. Dunavan will provide administrative assistance to the chancery and help retired priests, effective November 8, 2021. The clergyman's previous assignment history can be found here.
We know from studies that false allegations of sexual abuse are extremely rare, and we also know that even clergy abuse survivors victimized as adults can suffer long-term damages. Despite the promises of Catholic bishops to be transparent and accountable, there is minimal information available for either of these cases. Moreover, since both clerics will now have limited ministries, it would appear that at least some aspects of the allegations must have been considered "credible." Bishop James Conley needs to provide more information about the internal investigations and the law enforcement investigations, particularly if the men are going to appear in public in clerical garb. People tend to trust priests, and we are not certain that either of these two clerics should be afforded that trust.
For example, if Fr. Courtney's accuser was not a parishioner, how did she encounter the priest and why did she complain to the Diocese? Did the investigation uncover any other information about sexual misconduct? Was there just one allegation against Fr. Dunavan, and was the accuser a child or a young adult? We believe that the Lincoln Diocese has an obligation to disclose the complete findings of their investigations, and as well as to be more forthcoming about where these men will live and work.
Based on the information so far provided, it is not clear to us that these two priests can be safely returned to even limited ministry. We have certainly heard of other cases where a diocese "cleared" a cleric to return to work, only to have more allegations surface later.
Time on the sidelines does not wash away dangerous predilections.
CONTACT: Mike McDonnell, SNAP Communications Manager, (267-261-0578, [email protected]) Zach Hiner, SNAP Executive Director (517-974-9009, [email protected]) Shaun Dougherty, SNAP Board President, (814-341-8386, [email protected])
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)