Orthodox Church in America dismisses archbishop for failing to remove rapist priest

Citing the sex-abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia and at Pennsylvania State University, the Orthodox Church in America has dismissed its presiding archbishop for failing to remove a priest who had raped a woman and been jailed for other violent acts.

The Holy Synod of the church, whose members number about 85,000 in the United States and Canada, announced this week that Metropolitan Jonah, 52, had stepped down Saturday after ignoring the church’s procedures for responding to sexual misconduct.

“Metropolitan Jonah has repeatedly refused to act with prudence, in concert with his fellow bishops, in accordance with the Holy Synod’s policies,” the synod said in a statement.

“In light of the recent widely publicized criminal cases involving sexual abuse at Penn State and in the Philadelphia Archdiocese and the Kansas City Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church, the extent of the risk of liability to which Metropolitan Jonah has exposed the church cannot be overstated,” it said.

Church leaders say they are cooperating with law enforcement and investigating the rape allegation. The Rev. Erik Possi, a synod spokesman, said Tuesday the church was not releasing the accused priest’s name.

There are 36 parishes in the Diocese of Eastern Pennsylvania, which comprises half the state, and about 2,000 members in the Philadelphia area.

Born James Paffhausen in Chicago, Jonah converted to Orthodoxy from Episcopalianism at 18 and was ordained a priest in 1994. He was made a bishop in early 2008, when he took the name Jonah, and was elected primate, or presiding archbishop, later that year. He was the first convert to head the OCA, which is based on Long Island.

“At some time after his enthronement as our primate, Metropolitan Jonah unilaterally accepted into the OCA a priest known to him and others to be . . . severely abusing alcohol, which more than once was coupled with episodes of violence and threats toward women,” the synod said.

These episodes included the “discharge of a firearm” and the “brandishing of a knife,” which led to the man’s arrest. In 2010, he was alleged “to have committed a rape against a woman.”

Although informed of the rape allegation in February, Jonah “neither investigated, nor told his brother bishops,” and did not report the incident to police or church lawyers, according to the synod.

When the woman reported her alleged rape to police, however, she and a family member were admonished by unnamed church officials “that their salvation depended on their silence.”

As recently as last week, the synod reported Monday, Jonah was “regularly communicating” with the person who was instructing the woman to keep quiet.

Furthermore, it said, Jonah first encouraged the priest to pursue a military chaplaincy “without informing the military recruiter of any of the priest’s problems,” and then allowed the man to enter another Orthodox jurisdiction while assuring it there were “no canonical impediments” to a transfer.

Church law calls for a new metropolitan to be elected within 90 days, but Possi said there were “many steps that must be taken” and indicated that it could be longer.

The Orthodox Church in America traces its roots to the Russian Orthodox Church, whose missionaries created their first North American missions in Alaska in the late 18th century. After the Russian Revolution, in the 1920s, the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church in America became self-governing, and in 1970 severed itself from Russian Orthodoxy to become the OCA.

While the bishops and archbishops of many Roman Catholic dioceses have been accused of covering up clergy sex abuse, only Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston and Bishop Manuel Moreno of Tucson, Ariz., have resigned for that reason.

On Tuesday, a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge is scheduled to sentence Msgr. William J. Lynn, former head of the archdiocesan clergy office. Last month, Lynn, 61, was found guilty of felonious child endangerment for his 12-year role in recommending the assignments of priests whom prosecutors said he knew to be child abusers.

Jonah’s resignation is not the first scandal to mar his church in recent years.

In 2005, the OCA’s former treasurer, Protodeacon Eric Wheeler, accused the administration of spending millions of dollars in church assets for personal use or to mask deficits in church accounts.

According to some reports, Jonah was elected primate three years later because, as the newest bishop, he was untainted by financial scandal.

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NJ Priest Arrested in Alleged Sex Abuse of Mom, Child

Prosecutors in Ocean County have charged a Catholic priest for allegedly making inappropriate sexual contact with a mother and her child.

Marukudiyil C. Velan, known as “Father Chris” by his parishioners at the Visitation Roman Catholic Church in Brick Township, N.J., touched the alleged victims at their home Saturday, said prosecutors.

Velan, 64, had been assigned to the church as a visiting priest since 2001. The mother told investigators he befriended her family before the alleged incident.

He was arrested Saturday and charged with criminal sexual contact and endangering the welfare of a child.

Velan remains in Ocean County Jail on $75,000 bail, said authorities. Attorney information was not immediately available.

The Diocese of Trenton said Monday it has withdrawn Velan’s ministry privileges while the investigation continues.

“The bishop has pledged the diocese’s full cooperation with this process,” the diocese said in a statement. “Our victims’ assistance coordinator has been made available to those impacted by these troubling allegations, and the diocese will provide whatever support possible.”

Officials from the diocese are asking anyone with information to contact them at 888-296-2965 or at abuseline@dioceseoftrenton.org.

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Diocese seeks relief from clergy sex abuse verdict

The Catholic Diocese of Green Bay says its First Amendment rights protect it from liability in a civil lawsuit filed by two childhood victims of clergy sex abuse.

Brothers Todd and Troy Merryfield were awarded $700,000 in May by an Outagamie County Court that found the diocese committed civil fraud. The brothers claimed the diocese knew of the Rev. John Feeney’s illicit sexual history when it installed him as a priest at Freedom’s St. Nicholas Church and misrepresented him as safe while knowing he was a danger to children.

The Merryfields, then 12 and 14, were molested by Feeney in 1978. Feeney was sentenced to prison in 2004 for the assaults.

Sarah Fry Bruch, an attorney for the diocese, said the jury verdict should be overturned, arguing the court is constitutionally barred from reading any meaning into Feeney’s assignment to a pastoral role. The Merryfields didn’t show evidence the diocese represented Feeney as safe.

“Nor could they, as the assignment of a priest is a canonical act which the civil courts may not evaluate or explain,” she wrote. The First Amendment gives broad latitude to religious organizations in the conduct of their internal affairs.

Judge Nancy Krueger will hold a hearing Tuesday on motions filed by the diocese that seek a new trial, dismissal of the case, or overturning the jury’s findings.

John Peterson, an attorney for the Merryfields, disagreed in a written response, arguing the Merryfields’ claims against the church were secular. The diocese’s representation of Feeney as safe, by virtue of his unsupervised access to children, “has nothing to do with the Catholic Church’s religious beliefs.”

Granting the diocese immunity from Wisconsin law by finding in its favor “would raise grave Establishment Clause issues by actually advancing religion,” he wrote.

The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits the government from establishing a national religion or giving preference to one over another.

The First Amendment argument was one of several made by the diocese in a 40-page document asking for relief from the court.

One motion asks for a new trial, claiming bias on the part of a juror.

Another requests a dismissal, claiming the Merryfields unreasonably delayed filing the lawsuit and hamstrung the diocese’s ability to mount a defense. Several key witnesses died before the case reached trial.

The diocese also wants Krueger to rule the verdict excessive and change jury findings on the verdict form it returned.

Jurors awarded $475,000 to Troy Merryfield and $225,000 to Todd Merryfield. The brothers decided to not seek punitive damages after the diocese was found liable, saying the case was about revealing the truth, not money.

“A jury may have sympathy for the plaintiffs, but that alone cannot support a damage award,” Bruch wrote in arguing that evidence wasn’t sufficient.

Claims of juror bias arose after a member of the panel contacted the court about comments made by a fellow juror at the end of the case.

The juror mentioned to peers that a family member had attended St. Therese School in Appleton during the period Feeney was assigned to the church, and wondered aloud about the family member’s experiences with Feeney.

In addition, the juror was a friend of a cousin of the Merryfields’ mother, the diocese argues.

“One can only conclude that the juror purposefully kept back what she knew to get on the jury,” Bruch wrote.

Peterson said the juror’s recollections didn’t materialize until after the trial was under way, and she indicated so during an interview after concerns came forth.

The juror “did not exhibit any bias and stated that she could be fair and impartial,” he wrote.

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Man who attacked priest in revenge is not guilty of felonies

William Lynch, who beat the Catholic priest he said molested him as a child, is acquitted on elder abuse and felony assault charges. He may be retried on a misdemeanor assault charge.

SAN JOSE — A jury has found a San Francisco man not guilty of felony assault and felony elder abuse, despite his admission that he attacked the priest accused of molesting him nearly four decades ago.

The 10-man, two-woman panel also said Thursday that William Lynch was not guilty of misdemeanor elder abuse in the 2010 attack on Father Jerold Lindner. The 67-year-old Catholic priest has been linked to more than a dozen alleged victims — including his own nieces, nephew and sister — but never has been brought to trial because the statute of limitations in every case had run out.

The jury was split on a final charge against Lynch: misdemeanor assault. Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge David Cena declared a mistrial on that count. Dist. Atty. Jeffrey Rosen said his office would decide in the coming days whether to retry Lynch.

After the verdict was read, Lynch said he had felt certain that he would be going to jail — and was pleasantly surprised that he would not. But he also spoke haltingly, and with deep emotion, about justice and responsibility.

“I was wrong for what I did,” said Lynch, 45. “If I’m going to be taking responsibility, I have to take it fully. And in [beating Lindner] … I was perpetuating the cycle of violence.”

Surrounded by family, supporters and his attorneys in front of the courthouse, Lynch said: “I wanted to … be accountable, unlike the church and Father Jerry up to this point.”

Rosen said that his office too had had a responsibility: to charge Lynch for lying his way into the Sacred Heart Jesuit Center, where the retired Lindner lived, and attacking him.

Using “a fake name, gloves. Beating and bloodying someone. That’s not justice under the law,” Rosen said after the verdict, giving a shorthand account of Lynch’s actions. “That’s revenge.”

Rosen said that although his office understood what motivated Lynch’s behavior, “we do not condone it.… A just punishment is delivered through our justice system, not through the acts of one traumatized and troubled man.”

The two-week-long trial was filled with dramatic turns and punctuated with tearful, graphic testimony — not about the attack in question, but about what happened in 1974. That is when Lindner allegedly lured Lynch and his younger brother, then 7 and 4, into his tent during a Catholic family camping trip. The boys said that the priest raped them and forced them to perform oral copulation on each other while he watched.

As the trial opened, Deputy Dist. Atty. Vicki Gemetti told the jury that Lindner, who was a spiritual advisor for the outing in the Santa Cruz Mountains, had indeed molested the Lynch brothers.

She played a gut-wrenching video of a San Jose Mercury News interview in which Lynch recently talked in graphic detail about that camping trip years ago. Gemetti told the jury that Lindner would “probably lie” when he took the stand.

When Gemetti asked whether he had molested Lynch and his brother, Lindner said: “No.”

Defense attorneys called for a mistrial, insisting Gemetti had committed prosecutorial misconduct by inducing perjury. Cena disagreed, and the trial continued.

But when Lindner returned to the stand, he refused to testify further on the grounds that he might incriminate himself. The judge then struck Lindner’s testimony entirely and told the jury to ignore the priest’s description of Lynch’s “vicious” attack.

And that, Juror No. 12 said, was key for him in deciding the case.

“The victim in this case disappeared,” said the retired accountant, who declined to give his name. “His testimony disappeared. To me, if you have no victim, do you have a crime?”

The juror, who walked with a cane and sported a silver brush cut, described the nine hours of jury deliberations over three days as cordial and professional.

“There were 12 people who simply agreed to disagree,” the juror said. “There was some disagreement with the law. There was disagreement with some of the testimony. There was disagreement with each other.”

The juror said that everyone on the panel believed that Lindner had committed “absolutely heinous” crimes against Lynch and his brother. But, he said, he was one of the eight who voted “guilty” on the lesser charge of simple misdemeanor assault because Lynch “got up and said he did it.”

To defense attorneys Pat Harris and Paul Mones, Lynch’s testimony was an act of courage fueled by his desire to protect other children from Lindner — and to fight the Roman Catholic Church and other institutions that cover up child sexual abuse and protect perpetrators.

“Will had the strength to speak for many people who can’t speak,” said Mones, who called the jury’s verdict “an example of what’s been happening around the country today.”

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Monk suspected in killings at Dutch psychiatric hospital in 1950s

Thirty-seven boys who died in the early 1950s in a Dutch psychiatric hospital run by the Catholic Church were probably killed by a monk in charge of their care, prosecutors said on Thursday.

It was the latest in a string of scandals to hit the church in the Netherlands, where an independent commission found last year up to 20,000 minors were sexually abused in Catholic orphanages, boarding schools and seminaries between 1945 and 1981.

In a report released on Thursday, prosecutors said the boys who died between 1952 and 1954 in St. Joseph’s psychiatric hospital in the southeastern town of Heel had likely been given morphine overdoses by Brother Andreas.

Prosecutors said Brother Andreas had died and there were no known living suspects. If he had been alive there was enough proof to launch a criminal investigation.

The deaths happened so long ago that prosecutors said exhuming bodies of the victims for toxicology tests would likely not have helped pin down a cause of death.

The Catholic Church has been under fire for years in Europe and North America for sexual offenses committed against children over the past century and attempts to cover up the crimes.

The Dutch inquiry was launched after the commission found an unusually high number of deaths at the hospital during the period. It said Guus Vestraelen, the institution’s doctor, had almost certainly covered up for Brother Andreas by misreporting the causes of death. He too has since died.

“On the basis of the facts established … Brother Andreas would be a suspect if he were still alive,” prosecutors wrote, noting that any offences committed in the 1950s might have lapsed under Dutch law.

They said the Diocese of Roermond, in which the hospital was located, had learned of the deaths by 1958, but had not informed authorities.

“The bishopric finds it inexplicable that it didn’t report these events at the time,” the Diocese said on Thursday in a statement on what it called the “disturbing” findings. It expressed regret that an internal investigation carried out in the 1950s had failed to establish the facts.

Prosecutors said their investigation found that Brother Andreas was not qualified to care for disabled boys and that the large number of deaths sharply declined after he was transferred to another institution.

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