Catholic World News

Illinois priest who allegedly abused teen returned to limited ministry—reportedly at Vatican behest

September 13, 2012

A priest of the Diocese of Joliet who allegedly abused a teenage boy in the 1970s is being returned to limited ministry, according to local press accounts.

Father F. Lee Ryan, who is accused of having a yearlong relationship with the boy, “will not return to (full) ministry, but he is being permitted (a) very narrow ministry" to the homebound, a diocesan spokesman stated. "This was a very difficult decision. I believe it respects the law of the Church and protects children."

Father Ryan has denied the allegations.

“A written statement from [Bishop Daniel] Conlon said the determination was made after Catholic officials in Rome decided that, according to Church law in place at the time of the abuse, [Father F. Lee] Ryan did not commit a serious crime by the Church’s standards and could not be permanently removed from ministry,” the Joliet Herald-News reported.

The Chicago Tribune reported:

Bishop Conlon's spokesman told the Tribune that the Vatican cited Canon No. 2359 in the 1917 Code of Canon Law to explain why the priest was not found guilty of violating church law. The code stipulates that a cleric who violates the commandment forbidding adultery, by indecently touching a person under the age of 16, has committed a canonical crime.

Though the victim said a church official told him over the phone that age was the key issue, the diocese did not explain why the accuser's claim did not meet the criteria.

In 1994, American bishops amended the law to change the age of consent from 16 to 18 because it was "awkward to have canon law not mirror civil law," said Nicholas Cafardi, a canon law professor at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. But the accuser said inappropriate contact took place before age 16, meaning that the significance of his age remains unclear.

In March, while the Vatican was reviewing the allegation, Conlon wrote a letter to the accuser about the case but declined to document the particulars.

"I would be very happy to sit down and discuss the matter in detail with you, but I am not comfortable putting those details in writing," the bishop wrote in the letter, which was provided to the Tribune by the accuser.

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Show 3 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: - Sep. 15, 2012 1:20 PM ET USA

    This is absurd. Abused a teenage boy and it's not a serious crime??

  • Posted by: Frodo1945 - Sep. 13, 2012 6:17 PM ET USA

    Big mistake for sure. Right after Bishop Conlon gave a serious talk about this very subject that made me think maybe he "get's it". Alas, that was too much to hope for.

  • Posted by: fwhermann3492 - Sep. 13, 2012 1:44 PM ET USA

    HUGE mistake in my opinion.