Alleged Misconduct by Pastor Prompts Removal by Diocese

By Christie Storm
Arkansas Democrat Gazette
August 23, 2006

The Rev. Paul Worm has been removed as pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Fayetteville for alleged misconduct. The action was taken by the Catholic Diocese of Little Rock, which oversees all parishes in the state.

Worm had served the parish for seven years.

In a letter to parishioners dated Aug. 18, Monsignor J. Gaston Hebert, diocesan administrator, said Worm had been guilty of misconduct and his actions required immediate removal from the parish.

St. Joseph's parish is now under the leadership of the Rev. Thomas Marks, who will serve as parish administrator. Marks said parents and parishioners were assured that Worm's misconduct had nothing to do with pedophilia, but had no further comment on Worm's removal other than to say it was an internal matter. He added that letters were also sent home with students of St. Joseph Catholic School informing parents of Worm's removal.

The Roman Catholic Church in the United States has been shaken in recent years by lawsuits and allegations of child abuse by priests, most notably in Boston in 2002.

Marks said professional counselors within the parish will be available to speak with church members.

"I will also be available for questions from the church staff and from the school faculty and staff," Marks said.

Marks said he expects a range of reactions from parishioners.

"You just have such a wide spread, some who won't know [about the action taken ] and some who were dear friends and are very hurt and sad and possibly angry," he said.

St. Joseph parish includes about 1, 300 families and the school has roughly 350 students in pre-kindergarten through seventh grade.

Marks, who had been serving as associate pastor at Immaculate Conception Church in Fort Smith, said he was unsure how long he would be leading the Fayetteville parish, or how long it will take the diocese to appoint a new priest. Only a bishop can appoint a new priest.

Hebert has been leading the diocese since the reassignment of the Most Rev. J. Peter Sartain, former bishop of Arkansas, to the Diocese of Joliet, Ill., in early June, and the diocese could be without a bishop for a year or more while awaiting a decision from the Vatican.


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