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Abuse is virus, bishop writes



Published: Wed, April 24, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The bishop said he would not tolerate sexual abuse by priests.

By D.A. WILKINSON

VINDICATOR RELIGION EDITOR

YOUNGSTOWN -- Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown has called the sexual abuse of children, "a moral virus that has obviously infected the church for too long and in too many places."

And, the bishop writes, he will not tolerate sexual abuse or other misconduct by priests.

The bishop's comments are to run in his "Without a Doubt" column in this week's edition of Catholic Exponent, the newspaper of the six-county diocese.

Bishop Tobin writes that, "Although we share a deep concern over this national story, it really hasn't become a major crisis in our diocese or local community."

Church officials have said an ongoing review of the personnel files of local priests shows only a few cases of sexual abuse. The only two publicized cases involve former Youngstown priests Robert Burns and the Rev. John Hammer.

Burns, who transferred to Boston after a local allegation, has been the subject of Vindicator stories for years. He was defrocked and sent to prison in New Hampshire.

A second case came to light this week involving a new allegation from the early 1980s against Father Hammer, a Youngstown priest at the time. The diocese knew of another complaint against him, also in the 1980s. After years of treatment, he transferred to Michigan, where he serves as a priest.

Bishop's statement

Bishop Tobin wrote that sexual abuse, "Whether by a priest, minister, rabbi, teacher, coach, Scout leader, social worker, family member or anyone else -- is an abomination, a grave sin and a crime that should be dealt with severely."

The bishop's previously planned statement coincides with statements by Pope John Paul II that abuse by priests is a crime and "there is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young."

Bishop Tobin offered a "profound" apology to any member of the church who was harmed by any action by the local priests.

Bishop James Malone, the leader of the diocese when Burns was a priest, urged Boston church officials unsuccessfully not to let Burns work with children.

"The practice of hiding the crimes, silencing the victims, and transferring the offending priests to other assignments and potential new victims was terribly misguided," Tobin writes.

Bishop Tobin said any local priest identified as a child abuser will not be assigned to the parishes, schools or institutions of the diocese.

The bishop also said that local priests have "my unqualified affection and support."




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