Parish Members Defend Ousted Priest

By Cynthia M. Ellis
The Telegraph [Bethalto IL]
May 2, 2003

BETHALTO -- Parishioners at Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church -- hurt, puzzled and angry over the sudden ouster of their priest -- are rallying to his defense.

The Rev. Kevin B. Sullivan resigned April 15 after an accusation that he committed a serious "immoral act."

Many worshippers said they feel the allegations should not overshadow all the good things Sullivanhas done within the parish.

"He was a wonderful priest, " Amy Yates said. "He brought unconditional love to the congregation."

Amy Yates, 32, and her mother, Donna Yates, 61, are saddened that Sullivan has had to leave the church.

"He's changed the lives of so many people," Donna Yates said. "There are so many things that are special about Father Sullivan. It's devastating what's happened."

Bishop George J. Lucas of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield asked Sullivan to resign after investigating a complaint last month from an adult alleging an improper relationship with the priest. After the resignation, Lucas removed Sullivan from active ministry.

Sullivan, 66, admitted to the relationship, according to Kathie Sass, director of communications for the diocese.

Sass said the allegation was "seriously immoral, but no illegal acts and no minors were involved."

"It came as a shock," Amy Yates said. "It's almost as if we are grieving."

The Yateses did not make Sullivan out to be a saint.

"He's not perfect," Amy Yates said. "But then who is?"

Amy Yates, a member of the parish since birth, said she fell away from the church and that it was Sullivan who got her to come back.

"He helped me when I needed it most," she said.

She said Sullivan was very supportive when she was going through a divorce and about to become a single parent.

"He never judged me," she said. "He just listened."

Donna Yates, who has been a member of Our Lady Queen of Peace for 35 years, said she is thankful that Sullivan brought her daughter back to the church.

"Sometimes during Mass, Father would ask if there was someone we knew who wandered from their faith," she said. "He would then ask us to write down their names so he could contact them."

Parishioner Helen Nagy wrote a letter to the editor shortly after The Telegraph broke the story of Sullivan's ouster. Under Sullivan's guidance, she said, the parish flourished.

"During his time here, 199 new Catholics entered the church," Nagy said. "And many more returned to the church because he invited them and made them feel welcome."

Nagy said Sullivan loved being a priest to the almost 800 families that belong to the church.

"He would be the first to tell you that he was no saint and that all of us are sinners and need to be reconciled," Nagy said.

The church has about 2,300 parishioners, Sass said.

Amy Yates said that because of Sullivan, the church became a spiritually strong parish family. She said he took responsibility for his past actions.

Sullivan arrived at Our Lady Queen of Peace in July 1996 under a controversy -- he had a sexual relationship with a Decatur woman he counseled in the 1980s. The woman filed a lawsuit in 1992 accusing Sullivan of getting her pregnant and paying for an abortion.

Sullivan admitted he had the sexual relationship but denied he got her pregnant and paid for an abortion.

"As Catholics, we are taught to forgive and for Father's past, we have forgiven and moved on," Amy Yates said. "No questions asked."

She said that one of the programs Sullivan started when he got to the church was Growing in Faith Together.

"It was a weekend retreat," she said. "The GIFT program brought everyone who attended together spiritually."

Parishioner Susan McRae said that around one year ago Sullivan learned sign language to minister to the deaf in the area.

"Since then he taught our children how to sign during our Sunday masses," McRae said. "And he taught the congregation to respond to them in sign language."

Leonard Revelle said he and his family were members of the church for only a year. He said one of the reasons they started attending services in Bethalto was that his children started attending school at Our Lady Queen of Peace.

Revelle said that although he did not know Sullivan that well, he did know that the children at the parish loved him.

"All the kids enjoyed being around him," he said.

Sullivan was an easy person to talk with, parishioners said, and the week he left was very sorrowful for everyone.

"There were a lot of tears," Donna Yates said.

She said that because Easter week is such a special time in the church, it was more devastating to lose him at that time.

"We will go on without Father but we will always keep him in our prayers and will continue to nourish the garden of good works from the seeds he planted," Amy Yates said.

Nagy said Sullivan left a great legacy and that it is now up to the parish to remain strong and honor that legacy.

Rumors about a petition being circulated to get Sullivan reinstated could not be confirmed.

Several parish members said they think Sullivan is staying with his family.

"We want him to know that we love him very much and are praying for him," Amy Yates said.

"The good this man has done and the lives he has touched far outweighs any flaws in his ministry," Donna Yates said.

Sass said it was uncertain when a new pastor would get assigned to the church. Monsignor Virgil Mank, head of the Alton deanery, has been named interim administrator.


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