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Catholic diocese working to help parish heal after priest's removal for alleged past sexual abuse

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Holy Cross religious order issues statement

The Congregation of Holy Cross, United States Province, which is based in South Bend, is conducting a thorough investigation of the allegation that one of its priests, the Rev. Cornelius Ryan, 76, sexually abused a young man about 20 years ago while Ryan worked in Africa, where he has served a large portion of his ministry, the order said in a written statement released Thursday morning.

The religious order was notified June 10 via letter by a legal representative of the alleged victim, the statement said. The Rev. Thomas O'Hara, provincial superior of the Holy Cross order's U.S. province, conducted an immediate investigation and found the allegation to be credible, the statement said.

After notifying Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of the Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, O'Hara removed Ryan from public ministry that same day. At the time, Ryan was serving as administrator at St. Joseph Catholic Church-Hessen Cassel in Fort Wayne.

"A more detailed and thorough investigation is underway by Holy Cross, and this claim will be addressed in a pastoral manner consistent with its longstanding policies and mission," the statement said.

No legal action has been initiated against Ryan or the Holy Cross order at this time, the statement said, but the order has sought legal advice and believes it is premature to comment further on the matter.

"Holy Cross will do its best to bring this matter to a prompt conclusion with the welfare of any victim of abuse of any kind as its first priority," the statement said.

Because Holy Cross officials are in the early stages of investigating the allegation, the order is not providing information about the year or location where the abuse is alleged to have taken place, said Richard A. Nussbaum II, a South Bend attorney representing the Holy Cross order.

The order also is checking with law enforcement officials to see what obligations, if any, it has to report the allegations to authorities, Nussbaum said. Any obligations will be fulfilled, he said.

If the Holy Cross internal investigation finds the abuse allegation is valid, Ryan could face punishment ranging up to removal from the priesthood.

Thursday, June 20, 2013 - 5:31 pm

Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades plans to celebrate Mass at 5 p.m. Saturday at St. Joseph Catholic Church-Hessen Cassel as the Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend tries to help parishioners heal after allegations of past sexual abuse led to removal of their priest.

It is the second time in less than two years that a priest at the parish has been removed after allegations of sexual abuse at a previous assignment.

“Our bishop's deepest concern is for them and for their faith, and he knows how painful this is,” said Mary Glowaski, the leader of the diocese's office of evangelization and special ministries. “He is so sad and concerned for them.”

Rhoades is leading a retreat for diocesan priests Monday-Friday this week at the Potawatomi Inn at Pokagon State Park near Angola, but he relayed a message through diocesan Communications Director Sean McBride that he and the priests there are praying daily for St. Joseph parish.

The congregation of about 1,150 children and adults is at 11337 Old U.S. 27 S., near Interstate 469 on Fort Wayne's south side.

The diocese learned of the allegations June 10, the day the Rev. Cornelius Ryan was removed as administrator at St. Joseph by his religious order, the Congregation of the Holy Cross in South Bend.

The order took that action after reportedly receiving a credible allegation of sexual abuse of a minor involving Ryan, the diocese announced Wednesday. The abuse allegedly took place about 20 years ago while Ryan, 76, worked in Africa, where he has served a large portion of his career, the Holy Cross order said today in a statement.

Ryan has been placed at one of the locations where Holy Cross order priests and brothers live, but he will not be allowed to do any public ministry, said Richard A. Nussbaum II, a South Bend attorney representing the order. Nussbaum said he couldn't specify where Ryan is residing.

Ryan had served as parish administrator at St. Joseph since December 2011, when the Rev. Thom Lombardi was removed as pastor by Rhoades after the diocese received an allegation of sexual abuse involving Lombardi at a previous parish.

Lombardi's case is being reviewed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican, but no decision has been made, McBride said.

The Holy Cross order often makes some of its priests available for service in parishes and other ministries when they are not busy with other responsibilities, McBride said. The Fort Wayne-South Bend diocese accepted the offer for Ryan to serve as administrator of St. Joseph while the Lombardi case is being decided.

Parish administrators perform all the duties of a pastor, but officially they are not the pastor of the parish, Glowaski said.

The diocese currently is working to assign another priest to administer the parish, Glowaski said. She believes Rhoades will make that appointment by mid-July.

“I know Bishop is putting a lot of energy, thought and prayer into the discernment on who can help this parish move forward,” she said.

Glowaski, who was returning from St. Joseph parish when reached by phone Wednesday afternoon, said parishioners are “shocked,” and some are angry.

“They love Father Ryan, so it is very conflicting for them,” she said. “These are very good people, and they are very faith-filled people, and they are finding their way.”

In the interim, Rhoades will celebrate the parish's Saturday evening Mass. The Rev. James Bromwich, a priest based at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church on Fairfield Avenue, will celebrate this Sunday's Masses at St. Joseph at their usual times — 7:30, 9 and 10:30 a.m., Glowaski said.

She plans to talk with Bromwich to see if he can resume celebrating a daily Mass at St. Joseph.

“Our hope is that Father James can be at the parish as much as he can until a new parish administrator is named,” she said.

After the 10:30 a.m. Sunday Mass on June 30, the diocese plans to have pastoral care staff at the church to speak with parishioners individually or in small groups to answer questions and help them cope with the loss and changes, Glowaski said.

In addition, she said the diocese is providing information for parents who want to know how to speak to their children about Ryan's removal.

The diocese will continue to offer any assistance needed after the new parish administrator arrives, Glowaski said.

“We are going to walk with them through this,” she said.