Back to the Future

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Jul 21, 2003

In 1988, Precious Blood Father Richard Colbert was dismissed from his job as counselor and religion teacher at Boys Town after he inappropriately soothed a youth:

"I got emotionally involved with this person," Colbert said. "I had taken him out to dinner, things like that."

The Boys Town investigation started, Colbert said, after someone saw him touch the boy in his "thigh, rump area" when the youth was a patient at the St. Joseph Center for Mental Health. The boy was dressed, the priest said, and having a seizure. "I was trying to soothe him."

The soothed youth in question failed to grasp that Colbert's had been an effective life of ministry, and cried foul.

The Boys Town investigation concluded that Colbert did not sexually abuse the youth, but that the conduct was inappropriate, according to the priest and the former provincial director of his religious order.

Colbert's religious superior consented to his leaving Boys Town but reinserted him into ministry:

Colbert and the Rev. Mark Miller, former provincial director of the Society of the Precious Blood, said Boys Town, the order and Colbert agreed that the priest should leave. Colbert said he received a letter from Boys Town that "explicitly stated there was no sexual abuse." He turned the letter over to his provincial director and does not have a copy, he said. Miller said the order would not release the letter. A few years after Colbert left Boys Town, the youth told his local priest that Colbert sexually abused him. The priest contacted the Precious Blood order. Colbert said the youth withdrew his accusation during the order's investigation. Miller confirmed that an investigation of Colbert started as a sexual abuse case. "The final conclusion is not sexual misconduct," he said, declining to say more. Miller said that after sex-abuse allegations against priests surfaced across the nation, officials last year reviewed the Colbert case and again decided the incident did not warrant removal from the ministry.

Odd, isn't it, that Colbert's superior should claim to have an exculpatory letter and yet refuse to release it? In fact, this man's name rings a bell from an earlier article, also in the context of you-don't-need-to-know: he was quoted in Judy Thomas's notorious Kansas City Star series on AIDS in the priesthood (January 31, 2000), on the subject of testing priest-candidates for AIDS:

One religious order that doesn't require the test is the Society of the Precious Blood. The Rev. Mark Miller, provincial director of the Kansas City province, said the testing raises issues that he does not wish to address. "When you ask a question, you need to know why you are asking it," Miller said. "The answers that would come up puts it in a category where we don't want to go."

Great work, Father. We can predict a very successful ecclesiastical future for you. Your approach to the problems of cross-threaded priests via tactical stonewalling and management-by-avoidance are superb examples of the leadership that has brought us where we are today. I'm sure your pastoral approach to this matters was deeply consoling to Fr. Richard.

Colbert hopes his case won't be viewed in the light of the Catholic church's sex-abuse scandal. "We know a lot more now than we did then, as far as boundaries go," he said.

I don't.

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