Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Priest accused of sexual molestation

Priest accused of sexual molestation

April 20, 2010

BY TERESA AUCH SCHULTZ, (219) 648-3120

A group of Vatican officials could take months to decide the fate of a Michigan City priest accused of sexually molesting someone 19 years ago, a Gary Diocese official said.

The Rev. Terrence Chase, who served as pastor at Queen of All Saints in Michigan City, was placed on administrative leave last week after a diocesan response team found the allegations "are not manifestly frivolous but appear to have merit," Deacon Mark Plaiss, diocesan spokesman, said.

Plaiss said he does not know the identity, sex or age of the accuser but that the person came forward in late March to say that Chase had committed the sexual misconduct when he was an associate pastor at St. Patrick Parish in Chesterton.

An employee with the diocese contacted the Chesterton Police Department about the allegations, Plaiss said, but a police officer told her that unless the church named the accuser or the accuser came forward to the police, the police would not get involved.

A call to Chesterton police to confirm this policy was not returned. Plaiss said he did not know if the person who made the allegation knows about the process for filing criminal charges.

Plaiss said once the complaint was made to the diocese, the response team, comprised of two clerical people and eight laypeople, met with both Chase and the accuser multiple times. The team informed Bishop Dale Melczek of their findings on April 12.

Plaiss said the findings were not any form of judgment but more a finding that the accusations could have happened.

The diocesan issued a letter to parisioners about Chase being put on leave.

Attached to it was Chase's statement refuting the allegation.

"I can assure you that the allegations accusing me of inappropriate behavior are simply not true," Chase wrote, according to Plaiss. "I do not know why these destructive accusations were leveled against me."

Plaiss said these are the first charges of any kind of misconduct to be brought against Chase and that no civil or criminal charges have been filed against him. He said Chase has left Northwest Indiana.

The charges were sent to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican, which looks into all accusations of sexual misconduct by a priest. That group is dealing with accusations coming from all over the world, though, including recent charges in Europe that have caused national uproars there. Plaiss said he has no idea how long it will take them to reach a conclusion on Chase.

"When that will be is anybody's guess," he said.

Plaiss said he did not know what process the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith would use but the group would eventually come back to the Gary Diocese with a recommendation.

Until then, Chase will not be allowed to live in a house with a minor, practice any of the sacraments in public or wear clerical garb in public or do anything else to portray himself as a priest, Plaiss said. He will not be paid a salary but will be given a "means of support" payment, which is similar to what retired priests receive.

The Rev. Kevin Huber, who was on vacation in California and was not expected to be back in Indiana until Monday evening, will take over at Queen of All Saints until a decision is reached on Chase, Plaiss said.

No comments: