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Bishop James Conley of the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska Claire Chretien / LifeSiteNews
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Wave of sexual abuse accusations hits Lincoln diocese

Lisa Bourne Lisa Bourne Follow Lisa

LINCOLN, Nebraska, August 7, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – Fallout continues from allegations of sexual misconduct leveled recently against clergy in the Catholic Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska.

Lincoln Bishop James Conley has had to issue a subsequent statement following the diocese’s August 1 acknowledgement of reports of misconduct from the 1990’s against its deceased former vocations director. The statement comes after additional more current allegations surfaced related to a current priest in the Lincoln diocese.

Conley wrote the faithful on August 4 conceding the result of the new abuse stories left many feeling they’d been lied to and asking for forgiveness for “the potential betrayal of the good people of the diocese.”

And following Conley’s second statement Saturday, yet further allegations came to light Monday against another priest in the diocese. All of this is the latest chapter in a component of the Church’s sex abuse crisis illustrating that actively homosexual clergy, sexual abuse, and abuse of power can occur anywhere, even in a diocese known for its orthodoxy and strong vocations numbers. 

In his August 4 statement Conley directly named the late Msgr. Leonard Kalin, the diocese’s former vocations director and head of the Newman Center at the University of Nebraska, explaining that the diocese had received just one complaint against him before now, back in 1998.

The diocese’s review board would investigate the current allegations against Kalin, he said, and also the matter with current Lincoln priest Father Charles Townsend - the situation coming to public light in the wake of the more recent allegations surfaced against Kalin. 

Conley explained that he had removed Townsend from ministry for treatment at the time Townsend was accused last year of having an “emotionally inappropriate, non-sexual relationship” with a 19-year-old male altar server involving alcohol. 

However, Conley said while he tried to address it with integrity, he said he did not encourage an open discussion about it with priests, parishioners, or those involved. And even though the diocese was not legally obligated to report the incident, he said, it would have been prudent to do so. Further, since the young man had reached the age of majority, the diocese did not tell his parents about the incident. 

“I deeply regret this lack of transparency and breach of trust,” Conley said.

Conley denied having covered anything up or requiring anyone to keep silent about it, though, as had been reported by a number of parties.

Townsend has since been removed again from ministry while the review board looks at the situation, Conley said, and the matter also reported to civil authorities. Conley had also met with the altar server and his parents since the subsequent report surfaced about Townsend, apologizing for not being more forthcoming to the latter in light of the young man having reached the age of majority. 

“These recent reports have led me to reflect on the ways we have handled the moral failings of our priests,” Conley said. “I am working to rectify my failures to ensure that we consult appropriately and act with transparency in any matter involving a boundary violation.” 

Conley celebrated each of the Masses at the parish where Townsend has been pastor this past weekend, conveying the message in his statement. A new pastor will be appointed later in the week, and Conley was to conduct a congregation-wide meeting at the parish Monday evening.

More allegations 

But then The American Conservative’s Rod Dreher broke news Monday afternoon of a 37-year old Lincoln man hailing from a leading family in the Lincoln diocese who reports being molested when he was an adolescent by his uncle, a priest of the diocese now retired. 

The priest denies the charge.

The Lincoln man reports as well that there is at least one other victim of his uncle, who was 14-years-old at the time of the incident which he said occurred when the uncle was a seminarian. The other victim is currently not willing to come forward.

Conley has suspended the accused priest from active ministry and the alleged victim was offered $3,000 to cover any counseling costs, according to Dreher, based on correspondence between the diocese and the alleged victim, but the public has not been notified of the fact the accused priest has been removed from ministry nor why.

Conley banned the accused priest from providing sacramental assistance in parishes as retired priests typically do, though he can celebrate Mass at his retired priests’ residence and for priest retreats, and he can concelebrate with the bishop at diocesan liturgies. 

The accused priest, who has agreed to having his internet usage monitored, is a Facebook user with minors among his Facebook friends.

A chain of revelations

The latest reports of abuse follow Conley’s August 4 letter, which was in follow-up to his statement August 1 responding to an account also published by Dreher and written by Peter Mitchell, a former Lincoln priest who reported sexual misconduct and other scandalous behavior on the part of Kalin.

Mitchell’s account was published August 1, followed by the first statement from Conley and another statement from the diocese. In the diocesan statement, Mitchell’s allegations were acknowledged though not addressed, the diocese also mentioning that Mitchell was laicized after he’d broken his vow of celibacy - which Mitchell disclosed in his piece for Dreher, and for which he took responsibility. 

On August 2 and 3 Dreher wrote about another man now living overseas who’d been a student at the University of Nebraska and active at the Newman Student Center when Kalin was pastor there. 

The man had responded on Facebook with his experience after reading Mitchell’s article in Dreher’s column, saying he had experienced unwanted advances from Kalin, and that he knew of another victim. The man wanted to vouch for Mitchell’s story, and he has also written to Conley with his concern. His story wasn’t the only report of concerning behavior Dreher had heard regarding Kalin.

Dreher also received a comment on his published account of Mitchell’s experience regarding the situation involving Townsend, including that Townsend was returned to his parish to continue supervising the young priest who’d reported him.

Dreher had received additional reports on the pastor as well and multiple reports saying the younger priest was ordered to remain silent about the matter by the diocese.

No comment

Last week when Dreher inquired about the abuse account from the man now living overseas, the diocese had referred Dreher to its attorneys. But the attorneys advised him they had no information regarding ongoing cases and could only perform information intake on potential new allegations.

The priest accused in the latest case brought up by the 37-year-old Lincoln man had been sent away for some sort of treatment in 2000, the alleged victim told Dreher, but the diocesan attorneys would not comment on this either. 

The other reported victim of the Lincoln man’s uncle, 14 at the time of the claimed abuse, reported it back then to a priest, who suppressed it, Dreher writes, the alleged victim telling Dreher via phone Sunday evening, “Had the priest who was told about that reported it at the time, and had the diocese taken action, I wouldn’t have been molested.”

When the accused priest was sent away in 2000, the parish had been told similar to the Townsend situation; that it was for health reasons.

Correspondence from May between the latest alleged victim and Lincoln’s chancellor indicated that after an investigation Conley determined there was insufficient evidence to merit a canonical trial of the alleged assault, Dreher reports, the case having been reviewed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), which referred it back to Conley. 

The alleged victim from Lincoln is concerned about his uncle remaining actively friends with minors on Facebook. He said he came forward because Mitchell’s testimony had given him the courage to do so, and he fears his uncle may have hurt more people.

“How many priests like him are still in a position of power?” he asked. “How many other children are still vulnerable? How many priests who have allegations against them have moved up in the ranks, and stayed quiet to protect each other?”

The Lincoln man is also concerned that his uncle has been unable to get help, rather, “he just kept being moved from parish to parish.”

He also spoke up on behalf of Lincoln’s priests, saying, “I think some of the most amazing priests in the country are in our diocese. They deserve to have honest, truly transparent leadership within the diocese that they love and serve.”

He repeatedly expressed his love of priests to Dreher, along with loyalty to the Church and still, love for his uncle, despite the molestation. 

But asked by Dreher whether he and his wife would raise their future children Catholic, he responded, “I can’t right now, knowing what I know.”

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