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Chancellor denies knowing of allegation



Published: Tue, April 23, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The priest is now with the Diocese of Saginaw, Mich.

YOUNGSTOWN -- A new complaint of sexual abuse has surfaced against a former priest of the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown.

Nancy Yuhasz, the diocesan chancellor, said today that the diocese was unaware of a new allegation that recently surfaced against the Rev. John Hammer, 49, now a priest with the Diocese of Saginaw, Mich.

"We were not even aware if it," Yuhasz said.

It's the second complaint to become public against a priest with ties to Youngstown.

A former priest, Robert M. Burns, left the Youngstown Diocese to work in Boston. He later was defrocked and served time in a New Hampshire prison for molesting a boy.

Abuse claims have skyrocketed amid calls for married priests and resignations of top church officials, but there have been no local protests, Yuhasz said. The ongoing Bishop's Appeal exceeds its goals every year and is on target this year, she noted.

Allegation

The new claim was made by an unidentified Bexley, Ohio, man who claimed he was abused by Father Hammer while the priest was working at St. Louis Parish in Louisville in Stark County, which is part of the Youngstown diocese, said Yuhasz.

He is being represented by a lawyer, she added.

The diocese has been reviewing its files on priests because of the national problem. There was no information about the Bexley man in the file.

Father Hammer was removed in 1985 after allegations of abuse at St. Aloysius Parish in East Liverpool in Columbiana County, which is also part of the Youngstown diocese. He was sent for treatment and later formally transferred to Saginaw.

Father Hammer now is pastor at the Church of St. Mary in Alma, Mich., and Mount St. Joseph Church in St. Louis, Mich. On Sunday, he informed the congregations he had engaged in misconduct in the Youngstown diocese, according to published reports.

Information about the abuse in East Liverpool was not turned over to authorities in Columbiana County at the request of the victim's family, Yuhasz said.

Stark County Prosecutor Robert Horowitz has said he will not prosecute the new claim that came to light because the statute of limitations has expired, Yuhasz said.

The diocese will send information to the other five counties, if requests are made, Yuhasz said.

There have been no abuse complaints since 1994, when the diocese approved a written plan.

Reviews

Monsignors Robert J. Siffrin and John A. Zuraw have been conducting the reviews for the Youngstown diocese.

Monsignor Siffrin said today the review found several cases dating to the 1980s and earlier. He declined to give a number.

Several people connected to the Father Hammer and Burns cases have come forward seeking counseling, Monsignor Siffrin said.

The diocese takes all reports of sexual abuse, "very, very seriously," the monsignor said.

The previous complaint against Father Hammer and the complaint against Burns were handled by then-Bishop James Malone, who was a friend of Monsignor Siffrin's.

The bishop's pro-active policies and access to new ideas and experts helped provide good leadership for the diocese, Monsignor Siffrin said.




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