A second priest serving at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church-Hessen Cassel in Fort Wayne has been removed from ministry after what diocesan officials Wednesday called a credible allegation of sexual abuse of a minor 20 years ago in Africa.
The Rev. Cornelius Ryan was removed as parish administrator June 10, said Sean McBride, diocese spokesman, the same day the diocese’s bishop, the Rev. Kevin C. Rhoades, learned of the allegation from the head of Ryan’s order, the U.S. Province of the Congregation of the Holy Cross.
The move was announced to parishioners at Masses on Saturday and Sunday, McBride said.
Bishop Rhoades and really all of us at the diocese are heartbroken at these events, McBride said, adding the diocese’s first concern is for the the spiritual comfort and safety of parishioners.
He said no one from St. Joseph’s or elsewhere has come forward with any allegations about Ryan.
Ryan was appointed St. Joseph’s temporary administrator by Rhoades in December 2011, after the parish’s previous priest, the Rev. Thomas Lombardi, was accused of sexual abuse while serving at St. Louis Catholic Church-Besancon, outside New Haven.
Lombardi’s case has been referred to the Vatican and remains pending, McBride said.
Calling Ryan a much-loved priest, he said grief counselors had been at the church and other priests have been available for Mass and parish concerns. He said the situation appears a coincidence, but added: It’s devastating. I can’t imagine what some of the parishioners are going through right now.
McBride said he had no information about Ryan’s previous assignments and said the matter is being handled by the Congregation of the Holy Cross, which is based at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend.
He said another administrator for the parish could be named as early as this weekend, and Rhoades hopes to have a new priest in place by July 16.
Rhoades is on an annual weeklong retreat with diocesan priests and they are praying every day for the people of St. Joseph’s, McBride said, referring other questions to the congregation and its superior, the Rev. Thomas O’Hara.
O’Hara and a spokeswoman for the order could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.
The diocese’s 2011 directory lists Ryan as administrator at St. Therese-Little Flower Catholic Church in South Bend, and a history on the church’s website lists him as beginning his ministry there in 2001.
A national directory of Holy Cross priests lists Ryan as having served in Uganda, and a website for a youth soccer clinic run by Ugandan native Vee Batu calls Ryan a renowned high school soccer coach in Uganda.
Reached by phone in Charleston, S.C., Batu expressed disbelief at the allegation. He said he knew the priest as a coach of the boys’ soccer team at St. Henry’s College in Masaka in Uganda from 1991 to 1994 or 1995.
Oh no, no, no, no, nothing like that. There was nothing I ever heard about, he said, asked about the record of the priest. He said he had spoken by telephone with Ryan, whom he called exemplary, several weeks ago, sharing news about international soccer.
That’s unbelievable. Not him. He could not, I cannot imagine it, Batu said.
According to a national directory of Holy Cross priests, Ryan was ordained in 1966 and went to Fort Portal, Uganda, in 1967 and stayed there until 1999. He then spent time in Kenya.
In 2001, he returned to the order’s Provincial House in South Bend.
Anne Barrett Doyle, a spokeswoman for Bishop-accountability.org., which tracks pedophile priests internationally, said in recent years said it’s not infrequent for old allegations of abuse to surface from Africa.
Now that the global nature of the abuse crisis is known, Africa is the place where there has been the least exposure (but) we’re getting more and more reports from Africa, she said.
To her knowledge, the organization had not received any previous reports about Ryan.
But she said it’s difficult for victims in Africa to come forward.
What I’ve heard is that there are very strong cultural taboos against homosexuality, she said. There is still very little information coming out of Africa, but there’s certainly more than there used to be.