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Constant Vigilance Over Himself

By Diogenes (articles ) | Mar 03, 2005

Last week the Dallas Morning News reported the story of an ex-priest who for several years has been working in Haiti, before and after his defrocking.

Ron Voss sought his own expulsion in 1997 and got it a year later. His petition, according to the Diocese of Lafayette, Ind., included this admission: "My sins are too numerous to detail, but the most grievous gather around the sexual abuse of many adolescent boys, including some minors." Yet the defrocking hasn't kept him out of Catholic Church work or away from children. ... He has long been a leader in the Parish Twinning Program of the Americas, through which hundreds of Catholic congregations around the United States assist needy ones in Haiti.

The name rang a bell for Uncle Diogenes, who found on his ancient hard drive an eight-year-old article from the Indianapolis Star (2-16-97), detailing the eventful career of Voss and his conspicuously affectionate bishop, William L. Higi. Some excerpts:

During the 1970s and '80s, [Fr. Ron Voss] ran a family camp in rural Delaware County. The charismatic peace activist sang songs of hope and preached social justice, inspiring adult campers -- and impressing their children.

Brazenly, with adults nearby, Voss invited teen-age boys to his tent or cabin. There, he engaged in "inappropriate touching and sexual manipulation," says the diocese's Vicar General Rev. Robert Sell, who investigates sexual abuse and misconduct cases. While Sell insists those youths were between the ages of 16 and 18 -- past the legal age of consent -- other sources put the victims' ages at 14 and 15. ... Voss alone had eight alleged victims, by the diocese's own count.

It stands to reason that Voss, as a social justice advocate, would've waited 'til the lads were 16.

No lawsuit flushed out Voss, who received therapy but continued as a priest either in Indiana or Haiti for five years after he was first accused of sexual abuse. They were years of silence by Bishop Higi.

Simple prudence. Haitian 15-year-olds are notoriously litigious, and all their cell-phones are set to speed-dial tort lawyers' offices.

Voss is a respected figure in Haiti. In August (1996), he was honored by a visit from Higi. The bishop spent time with the former priest, who works with the needy, during a trip to the island to inspect church missions. "He is doing magnificent work," Higi said. "It's amazing what the man has been able to do."

Some priests from the Lafayette Diocese returned from trips to Haiti months earlier with a different view. They reported comments from Haitians that Voss still might be celebrating Mass, and possibly even taking children home with him. Their concerns drew a sharp written rebuke from the diocese last March. Sell declared that Voss has stayed out of trouble and "kept constant vigilance over himself."

Constant. Vigilance. Over. Himself.

Sell also said that since Voss resigned his ministry in 1993, he has not functioned as a priest and "directs individuals to cease from calling him 'Father.'"

Doubtless corroborated by the local constabulary and the Department of Family Services in Port-au-Prince.

Yet, in a 1994 national television appearance about violence in Haiti, a tanned and eloquent Voss was referred to as "Father Voss" and as a "priest from Indiana." On CBS' Eye to Eye With Connie Chung, Voss spoke for his adopted, strife-torn country. Shown strumming his guitar and singing with a group of Haitians, Voss was depicted as a man of conscience who lost a friend to the violence, and who "knows all about the reign of fear."

While sex abuser Voss addressed an audience of millions, the concerned priests in Indiana were silenced. Citing a church canon that defends the honor of priests, Sell ordered them to "cease from jeopardizing the name and reputation of Ron Voss."

First things first, as always. Yet there's one more curious loose end, for which we return to the DMN story. Taking heat from victim advocacy groups, Parish Twinning executive Teresa Patterson claimed ignorance of Voss's sordid history.

The Lafayette Diocese says it fully briefed Ms. Patterson years ago on Mr. Voss' past. Yet in a 2003 e-mail to Paul Kendrick, a leader of the national watchdog group BishopAccountability.org, she wrote: "He was not accused of molesting adolescent boys."

Hey, lighten up, Paul. We're only talking about Hoosiers and Haitians.

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  • Posted by: - Mar. 03, 2005 12:26 PM ET USA

    This crisis, which Bishop Gregory told us was “history,” is obviously far from over. The harm is manifest and legion. What troubles me greatly—in addition, of course, to the horrific damage done to our youth and the Church—is the extent of the involvement of our bishops in facilitating and covering up these vile acts.

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