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Archdiocese seeks review of sex abuse allegation against priest

Archbishop George J. Lucas in a Feb. 17 letter assured members of St. Bernadette Parish in Bellevue that he would pray for them and for Father Al Salanitro, who has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of a Vatican review of a sexual abuse allegation dating back 20 years.

"The weeks ahead must be a time of prayer for all of us as we try dealing with these unexpected events," Archbishop Lucas said in the letter.

Father Salanitro, 52 - the pastor of St. Bernadette Parish until he took a voluntary leave of absence in December after the allegation was made - has denied the claim of a Carter Lake, Iowa, man that he was sexually abused by Father Salanitro from 1991 to 1994. Father Salanitro was associate pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Omaha at the time the man, now in his early 30s, said the abuse occurred, archdiocesan officials have said. Archdiocesan officials also reported the allegation to law enforcement officials when they learned of it in December.

In his letter, Archbishop Lucas said Father Salanitro now is on administrative leave, which prohibits him from public ministry pending the outcome of the process to be stipulated by the Vatican. The archbishop said he has appointed Father Joseph Broudou, associate pastor of St. Stephen the Martyr Parish in Omaha, as parochial administrator of St. Bernadette Parish. Father Broudou first took Father Salanitro's place on the Mass schedule at St. Bernadette's when Father Salanitro took voluntary leave.

"Your familiarity by now with Father Broudou coupled with his familiarity with the unique gifts of your parish should provide the continuity that is so necessary at this time and will help minimize unnecessary disruptions and distractions," the archbishop said in his letter.

Also in the letter, Archbishop Lucas said the archdiocese's investigation was systematic, thorough and comprehensive, including three meetings of the 11-member Archdiocesan Review Board, which advises the archbishop on the protection of young people.

The archbishop said he and the board, which includes childcare experts, law enforcement officials, attorneys, clergy and mental health professionals, concluded that the evidence met the church's minimum standard for a credible allegation.

"As a general rule, all sexual abuse cases must be referred to the Holy See," said the archbishop, who officially closed the archdiocese's investigation Feb. 17. "If there is a semblance of truth to the allegation, I am obliged to seek the intervention of the Holy See," which will review the findings and decide how to proceed, Archbishop Lucas said.

Father Salanitro's case is being sent to the Vatican's Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in Rome, said Deacon Tim McNeil, chancellor of the archdocese. The CDF has sole competence in resolving allegations of sexual abuse of minors committed by clerics, and it exercises its authority once a case is referred to it by the local bishop.

The CDF will review the findings and decide what the next steps might be, Deacon McNeil said. The CDF could rule there is not sufficient evidence of the commission of an ecclesiastical crime, or could seek more information before a decision is made, he said.

The CDF also could authorize Archbishop Lucas to hold a church trial or address the allegation through a simplified, administrative penal process, or it could hold a trial at its offices in Rome, Deacon McNeil said.

In the clearest and most egregious cases, the CDF could refer the matter to Pope Benedict XVI for immediate dismissal from the clerical state, the chancellor said.

In every case where a cleric admits to or is found guilty of the sexual abuse of a minor, he is permanently withdrawn from all public ministry, Deacon McNeil said.

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