Omaha priest faces sex abuse allegation, is placed on leave
The pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Omaha has been placed on administrative leave as the Catholic Church investigates an allegation that he sexually abused a female student in the 1970s, church officials said April 29.
Father Franklin Dvorak, 68, who began serving at St. Elizabeth Ann in 2007, denies the allegation, said Deacon Tim McNeil, chancellor.
After hearing the results of a preliminary archdiocesan investigation April 23, the Archdiocesan Review Board, which advises Archbishop George J. Lucas on the protection of young people, concluded the evidence met the church's standard for a credible allegation, and the case is being referred to the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), Deacon McNeil said.
As a general rule, all sexual abuse cases involving clergy must be referred to the Vatican, unless the allegation is manifestly false, Deacon McNeil said.
The CDF will review the findings of the investigation and decide how to proceed, Deacon McNeil said. The CDF could rule there is not sufficient evidence of the commission of an ecclesiastical crime; it could remand the case to Archbishop Lucas for trial or a simplified, administrative penal process; or it could hold a trial at its offices in Rome. In the clearest and most egregious cases the CDF could refer the matter to Pope Benedict XVI for immediate dismissal of a priest from the clerical state, the chancellor said.
The archdiocese received the complaint in late March and contacted law enforcement officials as well as the 11-member review board, which includes childcare experts, law enforcement officials, attorneys, clergy and mental health professionals, Deacon McNeil said.
At the time of the alleged abuse, from 1970-1972, Father Dvorak was the associate pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Norfolk, his first assignment as a priest, Deacon McNeil said. The alleged victim was a teenage student in Norfolk, the chancellor said.
A review of Father Dvorak's file indicates there have been no other complaints against him in the parishes where he served, Deacon McNeil said.
Parishioners of St. Elizabeth Ann and of St. James Parish in Omaha, which share an elementary school, were notified of the investigation during Sunday Masses.
Archbishop Lucas wrote a letter to parishioners, and he invited parishioners to a meeting at 7 p.m. April 30 at St. Elizabeth Ann Parish, where he explained the canonical process and answered questions. Father Gerald "Chi" Igboanusi, associate pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann and chaplain of Roncalli Catholic High School, will serve temporarily as parochial administrator of the parish, the archbishop said. A long-term administrator could be appointed in mid-June, he said.
People with any concerns were encouraged to contact Mary Beth Hanus, the archdiocese's manager of victim outreach and prevention, at 402-827-3798, or Father Joseph Taphorn, vicar for clergy, moderator of the curia and judicial vicar, at 402-558-3100, extension 3028.
"Please keep Father Dvorak and the alleged victim in your prayers," the archbishop wrote. "I ask you to pray for Father Chi as he undertakes his new responsibilities at the parish."
Father Dvorak was ordained in 1970 and assigned to Sacred Heart Parish in Norfolk from 1970 to 1974; St. Patrick Parish in O'Neill, 1974-1979; St. Mary in Spencer, 1979-1985; St. Michael in Coleridge, 1985-1989; Holy Trinity in Hartington, 1989-1995; and St. Wenceslaus in Omaha, 1995-2007.