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Panel finds priest wrongdoing in Springfield, Ill. diocese; no crimes

By AP/Illinois Public Radio/KWMU

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/kwmu/local-kwmu-523513.mp3

Springfield, Ill. – An investigative committee said Wednesday it found some "serious misconduct" by a few priests within the Catholic diocese based here but no criminal activity after an 18-month probe.

The five-member panel of church members and a former federal prosecutor, who headed the group's investigation, released its findings and recommendations for preventing future problems.

The problems centered around former diocese Bishop Daniel Ryan, who the probe found engaged in improper sexual conduct and used his position to hide that behavior.

The committee also discovered evidence of financial mismanagement and inappropriate use of church computers. Church officials are seeking severe punishment of one former priest and investigating two others for misconduct, but stressed none of the wrongdoing involves abuse of minors.

"I'm deeply sorry for the misdeeds of any priest whom I have placed in or allowed to remain in a position of trust in this diocese," Bishop George Lucas said. "We can't change the things that have happened in the past, but I think we're now in a position to work actively to shape the future."

Lucas, who heads the 28-county diocese covering central and part of southern Illinois, ordered the probe in February 2005 after the beating of the Rev. Eugene Costa two months earlier by two teens in a Springfield park.

The panel said the teens alleged Costa had propositioned them for sex. Costa subsequently resigned and spent more than five months at an out-of-state rehabilitation center. Lucas said Wednesday he is pushing for the church to permanently bar Costa from future ministry.

The committee said Ryan's behavior, which he denies, caused scandal in the church and even prompted some members to abandon the faith. Ryan was replaced by Lucas and no longer lives in the diocese, but he is undergoing treatment and is aware of the report's findings, Lucas said.

The committee found misconduct by eight priests in all, but did not identify all of them or say what exactly they did. It did find instances where computers were used to access inappropriate Web sites and financial misconduct where some church money was used for personal benefit.

The committee recommended a variety of changes, including better reviews of church finances and an improved process for rehabilitating priests who have committed wrongdoing. Lucas said he wants the diocese to implement those recommendations.

Bill Roberts, the former U.S. attorney who headed the probe, said church members shouldn't be discouraged by the results. "The vast majority of priests who serve this diocese are honorable, good, God-fearing priests who are going about doing their duty day in and day out," Roberts said.

Committee member and state Sen. Bill Haine (D-Alton) said the congregation should instead have more confidence in its leadership. "There's been a change, a substantive change, in the way this diocese operates at the top, and the vast majority of priests are doing an exemplary job," Haine said.

"They were as much in the wilderness in the Ryan years as we were and the laity was."

The group's report was met with some immediate skepticism. Stephen Brady, president of Petersburg-based conservative group Roman Catholic Faithful, said his group had uncovered most of these findings years ago. He said some of the committee's recommendations were good but was disappointed it didn't dig deeper and uncover more problems.

"It's sad because the faithful of the diocese are treated like they don't have any sense and can't figure anything out," Brady said.

An official with the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said in a statement the recommendations are commonsense steps that should have been taken years ago, but a "culture of secrecy" within the Catholic church will make it difficult to ensure they are followed.

Illinois Public Radio's Kavitha Cardoza prepared this report.

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