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Vatican reinstates Sandusky priest accused of abuse

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Feltman: Pastor of Sandusky St. Mary parish.

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The Rev. Philip Feltman, a Toledo diocesan priest placed on leave of absence in January over allegations of child sexual abuse, has been reinstated by the Vatican, Auxiliary Bishop Robert W. Donnelly announced yesterday

Father Feltman, 63, pastor of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Sandusky, is the first Toledo diocesan priest to return to ministry since the nationwide church scandal erupted last year. The priest was greeted by a crowd of cheering parishioners when the announcement was made during a conference yesterday at the church.

Bishop Donnelly said in a statement that Father Feltman was cleared by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican department charged with maintaining and defending the integrity of the Catholic Church.

Father Feltman was suspended after a woman, who requested anonymity, contacted diocesan officials last fall and accused him of an improper sexual contact in 1972 when she was 9 years old.

“We regret the anguish experienced by Father Feltman's accuser and by Father Feltman,” Bishop Donnelly said. “We pray that God will grant this lady peace and that both she and Father Feltman will realize closure and continue to live their lives in peace according to God's direction.”

The diocesan review board sent a letter Jan. 27 to then-Bishop James Hoffman, who died Feb. 8, and the bishop agreed with the panel's recommendation to send the case to a regional tribunal of priests from outside the Toledo diocese.

The Vatican's decision negates the need for the case to be heard by the tribunal, according to the Rev. Michael Billian, chancellor and vicar general of the diocese.

“Referring the case to the three-judge panel was one of five different options available to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,” Father Billian said. “Upon review, the officials decided that there was no way to substantiate the case and recommended Father Feltman be returned to the ministry. By choosing this option, no further action will be taken by the Diocese of Toledo regarding this claim.”

Archbishop Angelo Amato, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said in a letter received this week by Bishop Donnelly: “Having examined the case, you are hereby authorized to restore Reverend Feltman to his pastoral duties.”

The CDF's intervention is “troubling,” said David Clohessy, national president of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), the victims' advocacy group.

He said that of the two dozen priests returned to ministry nationwide since the scandal began in January, 2002, Father Feltman's case is the first he knows of in which the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith intervened.

Claudia Vercellotti, Toledo SNAP coordinator, said the case was “another in a long list of examples in which the diocese did not do what it said it would do.”

Father Feltman, who was ordained in 1966 and has served as pastor of St. Mary's since 1991, asserted his innocence all along. In a Jan. 29 letter to parishioners, he said he was “beyond shocked - I am just numb right now, not fully understanding how or why this allegation has been made.”

In a statement issued yesterday, he said that “during this very difficult time, I have come to know my total dependence upon God. ...”

Since May, 2002, six Toledo diocesan priests have been removed from ministry over allegations of sexual abuse involving minors, and three priests remain on leaves of absence pending investigations.

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