Joliet, Ill. was rocked in May 2010 when the Rev. F. Lee Ryan, who preached at two area parishes for decades, was removed from his ministry amid accusations that he had a sexual relationship with a minor in the 1970s.
Now, community members and victims' rights advocates are speaking out against a decision by the Joliet Diocese to reinstate Ryan for limited service.
Rev. Ryan was removed from his positions at St. Edmund Parish in Watseka and St. Joseph Mission in Crescent City downstate after allegations from a man who claimed he was sexually abused at age 14, in the 1970s, were found to be credible, CBS Chicago reports. But Joliet-based Bishop Daniel Conlon ruled recently that molesting a minor was not considered a serious crime by Church law during that time period, so Ryan could not be altogether removed from the ministry, but would be limited to serving homebound church members.
Before 1994, the age of consent within canon law was 16, the Chicago Tribune reports. But that year, American bishops amended the law to change the age of consent to 18 because it was "awkward to have canon law not mirror civil law," Nicholas Cafardi, a canon law professor at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, told the newspaper.
Since the victim claims he was 14 when the abuse occurs, the legal foundation for Ryan's return to ministry remains unclear despite the diocese's explanation.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) issued a statement Wednesday in response to reports that Bishop Conlon would be reinstating Ryan based on orders from the Vatican.
"Does Conlon really think that none of these parishioners will have kids around--their own kids, their grandkids or their neighbors' kids - when Fr. Ryan comes into their homes?" SNAP wrote in a statement "And does Conlon really think that none of these parishioners will ever go to the bathroom or into the kitchen or on to the back porch, leaving Fr. Ryan alone with a child?"
Conlon is chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People, according to the National Catholic Reader.
The victim, who spoke anonymously with the Chicago Sun-Times, told the newspaper he "just couldn’t believe that they would" reinstate Ryan.
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