Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Priest denies sexual allegation

Priest denies sexual allegation
Michigan City pastor put on leave while diocese investigates accusation

StoryDiscussionBy Susan Erler - susan.erler@nwi.com, (219) 933-4183 | Posted: Monday, April 19, 2010 12:05 am | (42) Comments

Bishop Dale Melczek's letter, priest's response to accusation
A Michigan City priest who has been placed on administrative leave is denying an allegation that he engaged in sexual misconduct with a minor 19 years ago at a Chesterton parish.

The Rev. Terrence Chase, pastor of Queen of All Saints, was placed on leave Thursday, a letter dated Friday from Gary Diocese Bishop Dale Melczek to Queens of All Saints parishioners said.

The accuser said the sexual misconduct took place in approximately 1991 while Chase was an associate priest at St. Patrick church in Chesterton, Melczek said in the letter.

Church officials did not identify the person, who they said came forward with the allegation a few weeks ago.

Parishioners who met with Melczek after the 11:30 a.m. Mass on Sunday expressed "shock and disbelief" at the news, said Mark Plaiss, director of communications for the Diocese of Gary and a church deacon.

In a statement attached to Melczek's letter to parishioners, Chase said, "I can assure you that the allegations accusing me of inappropriate behavior are simply not true. I do not know why these destructive accusations were leveled against me."

Chase said in the statement that he has cooperated with the process the Gary Diocese has in place for handling sexual misconduct allegations.

Chase could not be reached for comment Sunday.

As part of the process, Melczek turned over the allegation to a response team made up of eight laypeople and two priests who met with both Chase and the person making the allegations, Plaiss said.

The response team reported to Melczek on April 12 that the allegation was "not manifestly frivolous and appeared to have merit," Plaiss said. That same day, Melczek told Chase, who was on vacation, that "he was going to have to put him on administrative leave," Plaiss said.

The last Mass that Chase celebrated was on Easter Sunday, Plaiss said.

Police in Chesterton were notified of the allegation, Plaiss said.

No criminal or civil lawsuit has been filed in connection with the allegation, Plaiss said.

"No criminal charges are in play at the moment," he said.

Chesterton Police Chief David Cincoski could not be reached for comment Sunday.

A Valparaiso man who belonged to a St. Patrick's church youth group headed by Chase in 1991 said he was surprised by news of the allegation Sunday.

"I had never heard of any accusations like that (from youth group members)," said Derek Germain, 37. "I don't even know of anybody who felt uncomfortable around him in that manner."

Margaret Sluyk, who belonged to the same youth group, said teens in the group felt comfortable talking to Chase.

"There was a level of trust with him," said Sluyk, 34, of Temecula, Calif.

Sluyk said she hopes Chase is innocent, but if not, she'll wonder "did I miss something? If he isn't innocent, did I dodge a bullet?"

The facts of the case will be sent to the Vatican, the central governing body of the Roman Catholic Church, where they will be heard by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which oversees Catholic doctrine.

"In due time, they will inform me on how to proceed in this matter," Melczek said in his letter. It is hoped a Vatican decision will come by the end of the year, Plaiss said.

The Rev. Kevin Huber, the Gary Diocese vocations director, will serve as administrator of Queen of All Saints parish beginning Tuesday.

Chase has been the pastor of Queen of All Saints since July 2003, Plaiss said. He also had been pastor at St. Andrew the Apostle in Merrillville.

While on administrative leave, Chase cannot be in a residence in which a minor lives or is present, Plaiss said.

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