Friday, March 25, 2011

Priest removed
Marquette University High School alumnus accuses Jesuit of abuse
By Zach Buchheit. Published March 24, 2011.
The Archdiocese of Omaha has permanently removed a Jesuit priest, Rev. Perry Robinson, from public ministry on an allegation that he engaged in inappropriate conduct with a Marquette University High School student in the early 1980s.

Archbishop George Lucas removed Robinson, 69, from St. Gerald Catholic Church in Ralston, Neb., where he had served since 1989, after receiving a letter from the MUHS alumnus last month. The letter said Robinson had given the student an inappropriate back rub in high school and pointed out Robinson’s involvement in an early 1990s controversy, which found him in possession of several nude photographs of MUHS students.

Daniel Sheehan, the now-deceased archbishop at that time, was unaware of Robinson’s past when hiring him, according to Tim McNeil, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Omaha. Upon receiving the letter, Lucas immediately removed Robinson in keeping with the archdiocese’s “zero-tolerance” policy toward sexual abuse.
McNeil also said the Jesuits performed an immediate investigation upon receiving news of Robinson’s release. During the investigation, St. Gerald parish notified parishioners in a bulletin that Robinson was leaving on sabbatical for health reasons and would not be returning.

Weeks later, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests issued a press release describing Robinson’s termination. It was not until this time that the archdiocese notified parishioners of Robinson’s sexual misconduct, saying the delay was to protect children and the reputation of clergy.

“It’s a delicate balance between people’s right to know and the clergy’s right to a good name,” McNeil said.

John Pilmaier, SNAP Wisconsin director, has been working with the organization since 2007 in an effort to make clergy sexual abuse cases more transparent. He also helped compose a March 17 letter to the Rev. Tom Krettek, Provincial of the Wisconsin Province of the Society of Jesus, asking him to make information public regarding Robinson and any other Jesuits accused of sexual abuse.

Current Wisconsin Province policy requires an investigation following any credible abuse report and cooperation with civil authorities. However, unlike the Catholic dioceses, the Jesuits do not publish a list of the accused clergy, as they are a separate religious order.

“None of the religious orders have been transparent on sex offenders,” Pilmaier said. “They’re keeping a lid on it.”

He also said religious orders make up more than 50 percent of clergy in parishes, schools and hospitals.

Rory Gillespie, director of communications for the province, believes the current policy to address abuse cases is sufficient.

“We actively encourage victims to report abuse, and we will handle cases seriously,” he said.

When asked why the Archdiocese of Omaha was not aware of Robinson’s past misconduct, Gillespie refused to comment.

Pilmaier doubts Archbishop Lucas knew nothing of Robinson’s history and believes if parishioners had been informed from the beginning, they would not have allowed their children to be in Robinson’s presence.

“The system is fundamentally flawed and broken,” Pilmaier said. “The problem is the archaic structure of the church itself, with bishops having absolute control.”

McNeil, however, believes the church has made huge strides since the Boston abuse scandals in 2002, mentioning that every diocese now has a review board.

“We’re still not there yet, but I think we’re really, really close,” he said.

In the past eight years, the Archdiocese of Omaha has implemented safe environment training programs for approximately 20,000 adults and 36,000 young people in its schools and programs, a press release said.

In the meantime, Pilmaier and SNAP continue to wait for a Jesuit response.

“We are certainly willing to have that conversation to ensure children are safe around Jesuits,” he said.

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