Amid Abuse Allegations, Some Parishioners Offer Priests Hope and Encouragement

Amid the tide of clergy sex abuse allegations, some Roman Catholics accustomed to turning to their priests for help in times of trouble have found themselves returning the favor.

"I've thought about writing notes to the priests who have made a positive impact in my life," Dale Weber, 50, of Lorain, said before Mass at St. John Cathedral. "I think there are far more good priests out there than the troubled ones who are making the news."

The Rev. Walter J. Hyclak, a Cleveland priest who leads spiritual retreats, has noticed the warm embrace of Catholics trying to show their support.

There's even a name for it: ministry to ministries.

"A lot of folks have called and tried to be encouraging: `We know there are a lot of good priests.' And that's important," said Hyclak, 59.

Since January, several dozen priests out of more than 47,000 nationwide have been suspended or forced to resign over past allegations of sexual abuse.

The Rev. David C. Weber, rector of Cleveland's 150-year-old cathedral, was suspended Friday "pending further review of a case of alleged sexual abuse of a minor," according to the diocese, which provided no details. Weber did not return a message left at the cathedral residence.

It was the 11th suspension in two weeks in the diocese of about 340 priests and 800,000 Catholics.

The scandal hit a peak there April 4 with the suicide of the Rev. Don Rooney, 48, following a newly disclosed abuse allegation involving a girl in 1980.

Despite other allegations against him and his suicide, Rooney's funeral Mass was presided over by Bishop Anthony M. Pilla and more than 100 priests.

In Boston, where the scandal began in January with the indecent assault conviction of John Geoghan, a former priest who had been accused of molesting children yet was moved from parish to parish, parishioners also have shown support for the clergy.

"Everybody makes mistakes, everyone," said Doris Brown of Boston as she left St. Anthony's Shrine on Saturday. "The Church belongs to Jesus. That's what we should focus on."

"I pray for the Cardinal. I pray for everybody," she said.

In other developments:

— A former worker at the St. Augustine Cathedral in Bridgeport, Conn., told the Connecticut Post that in 1989 she overheard then-Bishop Edward Egan, now cardinal of the Archdiocese of New York, discussing what to do about a priest who got a teen-ager pregnant. Church officials had said Friday that the diocese did not know about the baby until 1994.

Bridgeport diocese spokesman Joseph McAleer called the former employee's account "a total fabrication." "It's not true," New York Archdiocese spokesman Joseph Zwilling said Saturday.

— A spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston, S.C., said officials are investigating allegations against several priests. John Carroll said none of the allegations are against priests active in the ministry or involve victims who are currently minors.

— The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph admitted that a retired priest accused of child sexual abuse remains active, but only in a role that officials say doesn't put children at risk. Diocese Vicar General Patrick R. Rush told The Kansas City Star for Saturday's editions that four other retired priests have faced sexual abuse accusations as well. Those four priests have varying levels of activity in the diocese, Rush said.

— Bishop William Curlin of Charlotte, N.C., said church officials have told secular authorities about accusations against two priests involving alleged incidents more than 25 years ago. The diocese also is considering checking priests' files for past allegations that weren't properly addressed, a church spokeswoman said.

— In Pennsylvania, the Diocese of Greensburg said a priest removed from active duty last month will remain on leave because of accusations of sexual misconduct. A diocese review board also ordered two retired priests to refrain from engaging in public ministry, placed one who had not been active within the diocese for 20 years on leave from his army chaplain post, continued to bar one priest from active duty and cleared three others because of a lack of evidence.