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Published: Tuesday, 12/10/2002

Priest banned from ministry in sex abuse

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR
Lucas: at time of ordination. Lucas: at time of ordination.
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The Rev. Neil C. Lucas, associate pastor of St. Clement Catholic Church and a Toledo diocesan priest since 1967, has been removed from ministry for the sexual abuse of minor boys, church officials announced yesterday.

The new diocesan review board heard allegations Thursday against Mr. Lucas and recommended to Bishop James Hoffman that the priest be removed. After meeting Saturday with Mr. Lucas, the bishop banned him from ministry.

The priest did not deny the allegations, which involved abuse of more than one boy in Allen County in the 1970s, the Rev. Michael Billian, chancellor, said in a statement issued by Hart Associates, a public relations firm the diocese hired.

Mr. Lucas, 64, is the sixth Toledo diocesan priest removed from ministry since July and the first removed at the recommendation of the six-member review board.

From 1973 to 1978, Mr. Lucas served three simultaneous assignments in Allen County: administrator of St. Mary Parish, Bluffton; chaplain of Bluffton College, and instructor at Lima Central Catholic High School.

He was named associate pastor of St. Clement in West Toledo last year. He was administrator pro tem of Little Flower from 1999 to 2001; pastor of Christ the King from 1986 to 1999, and pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from 1978 to 1986. Before serving in Allen County, Mr. Lucas taught at Toledo Central Catholic High and was assistant pastor of Toledo's St. John the Baptist parish from 1967 to 1973.

“The diocese of Toledo is committed to the zero-tolerance policy adopted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and will continue to do everything possible to develop effective ways to eliminate sexual abuse of minors by anyone, as well as to help victims of sexual abuse to heal,” Bishop Hoffman said yesterday in a statement. “Hopefully today's actions continue to demonstrate the diocese's commitment.”

The review board heard the allegations on Thursday from at least one victim, who requested confidentiality, and also heard from Mr. Lucas.

“We are confident the recommendation to remove Father Lucas is the right action to take based on the evidence,” Frank Link, chairman of the review board, said. He added that the bishop's actions to remove the priest “validate our recommendation and our mission.”

Mr. Lucas could not be reached for comment last night.

A priest who is removed from ministry cannot celebrate or administer the sacraments, use the title “Father” or “Reverend,” wear clerical garb, or present himself as a priest.

On the same day of the Lucas hearing, at least one other review board meeting failed to take place. Jon Schoonmaker, who alleges he was abused by a diocesan priest in the 1980s, was told after arriving at the Catholic Office Building that neither his wife nor any other relative or friend could accompany him into the hearing.

After two hours of discussing terms of the hearing, Mr. Schoonmaker left in frustration. He said the board ultimately told him that the only person he could bring to the meeting would be an attorney.

The diocesan review board was appointed Nov. 7 by the Bishop's Policy Committee on Response to Child Abuse and Adult Sexual Misconduct.

One of its six members must be a priest, according to the charter adopted by U.S. bishops in Washington last month. The Rev. Christopher Vasko, pastor of St. John the Evangelist and St. Rose parishes in Lima, completed the panel's lineup when he accepted an appointment last week. When the board was appointed, Bishop Hoffman said that “while the panels are consultative, bishops better be prepared to follow their advice.”



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