Priest Is Pulled out of Ministry
By Mike Frazier
Herald & Review
August 3, 2006
Decatur - A priest who formerly served Holy Family Parish in Decatur will be barred from the ministry, according to a report on clergy misconduct released Wednesday by the Catholic Diocese of Springfield.
Monsignor Eugene Costa was severely beaten in a Springfield park in December 2004 by two young men after he allegedly propositioned them for sex, according to the report.
Costa was removed from public ministry by Bishop George Lucas and has undergone a psychological evaluation and follow-up treatment. Lucas is taking the necessary steps within canon law to bar Costa permanently from ministry, the report stated.
Two Springfield teenagers were sentenced in July 2005 to 30 months in prison for beating Costa, who served as pastor of Holy Family Parish from 1987 to 1993.
Civil authorities declined to prosecute Costa after they reviewed evidence.
Lucas called for an investigation of alleged clergy misconduct "amid a climate of increasing doubt and mistrust" in February 2005, the report stated.
The probe was spearheaded by Springfield attorney Bill Roberts, a Methodist.
The investigation found "some misuse of power and some serious misconduct" by a "very small number of priests," Lucas said.
Lucas remains confident in the virtuous service of the vast majority of the more than 120 priests in the diocese. He acknowledged the "painful truth" of revelations and hopes the investigation will restore the confidence of parishioners.
"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," Lucas said.
The report stated that former Bishop Daniel Ryan engaged in sexual misconduct with adults and used his authority to conceal his actions.
"Although denied by Bishop Ryan, this behavior did occur and caused scandal in the church by leading others to do evil," the report stated. "It resulted in feelings of hurt and anger, as well as thoughts of doubt and mistrust, both in the church as an institution and in its leaders."
The report documents anecdotal evidence of Roman Catholics abandoning the faith because of Ryan's actions.
"The investigation found a culture of secrecy fostered under Bishop Ryan's leadership which discouraged faithful priests from coming forward with information about misconduct," the report added.
Ryan no longer participates in public ministry and does not live in the diocese, the report stated.
"We saw a culture that had grown very permissive, very lax, a culture lacking discipline, a culture in which at some point the people became distrusting and wary of bringing things to the head of their church in this diocese because they believe that it wouldn't be handled appropriately," Roberts said.
Some believe Lucas rewarded priests who protected Ryan by honoring them with the designation "monsignor," the report noted. The probe found no evidence Lucas was aware of alleged misconduct by honorees but found Lucas could have researched some priests' characters more carefully.
The panel found false and without merit the allegations by area resident Thomas Munoz, who claimed to have engaged in sex acts with Lucas, five priests and three seminarians. Munoz failed a polygraph test and has a history of criminal and deceptive behavior, the report stated.
Monsignors John Renken and Kenneth Steffen are on leave because of allegations of "personal and ministerial misconduct," the report stated. Investigations continue, but both deny knowledge of events that would instigate a probe.
The report lists other alleged misconduct, including "improper financial activities" and using computers and the Internet "in a manner inconsistent with the mission of the church."
Recommended action includes improved financial controls, computer policies and screening of seminarians. The report recommends retaining a confidential telephone number and e-mail address to report alleged misconduct.
Roberts praised Lucas' call for an investigation, calling him a person of integrity, compassion, courage and vision.
Roberts urged the public to balance the misdeeds of a few priests with the good deeds of many.
"The report indicates that the vast majority of the 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.
Mike Frazier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 421-7985.
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