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Published: Thursday, 5/29/2003

Woman rebuked for letter to victim


A social worker employed by a local Catholic parish has been reprimanded by the state for saying that a man who claims her parish priest abused him “could be a threat to children.”

Trina Shultz improperly used her credentials when she wrote a letter to Jon Schoonmaker in defense of the Rev. Joseph Schmelzer, according to a ruling by the Ohio counselor and social worker board.

Mr. Schoonmaker's allegations of sexual abuse against Father Schmelzer, pastor of St. Mary's Parish in Van Wert, led to the priest being put on a leave of absence in January while a church tribunal investigates the charges.

Ms. Shultz, a St. Mary's parishioner, has been a licensed social worker since 1986 and serves as a pastoral associate at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Delphos, Ohio.

The state board said in its May 16 reprimand that she violated professional standards when she wrote in a Feb. 16 letter that Mr. Schoonmaker could be a threat to children because of his anger. The board ruled she “had never performed any professional evaluation or assessments in reaching this conclusion.”

“The reprimand is nothing,” Ms. Shultz said in an interview yesterday. “It's no big deal. It's a tiny little reprimand. My issue is we lost our priest. We all love him. We want him back. We trust him. I've never heard a negative thing about him except from Mr. Schoonmaker.”

Mr. Schoonmaker, 36, alleges that Father Schmelzer began touching him in a sexual manner when he was 16 and that the priest molested him at age 19.

In 1993, the late Bishop James Hoffman wrote to Mr. Schoonmaker saying that Father Schmelzer “categorically denies any sexual misconduct” but “acknowledges that he may have acted imprudently on the New Year's Eve in question when he massaged Jon's back and legs in the course of the evening.”

The diocesan review board, in a Jan. 20, 2003, letter to Bishop Hoffman, called the allegations “credible” and recommended a leave of absence.

The letter, a copy of which was obtained yesterday by The Blade, also said that “considering the risk that the Rev. Schmelzer presents to the members of the church, and the community at large, the board recommends that the church continue to monitor the Rev. Schmelzer and encourage him to participate in ongoing, specialized sexual offender treatment; in ongoing, spiritual direction; and in a monitoring and accountability system that is financed by the church and overseen by an independent ecclesiastical board.”

Publicly, diocesan officials have said only that Father Schmelzer is on leave pending the tribunal's investigation.

Mr. Schoonmaker said he believes Ms. Shultz “is acting out of her convictions” but that her judgment is based on incomplete information.

“Trina Shultz believes that Schmelzer is innocent and that nothing has been found and that there is still an investigation going on, and that is just not the case. That is not true,” he said. “The diocese should be held accountable for not presenting all the information.”

Ms. Shultz, 58, said yesterday that she supports Father Schmelzer “100 percent” and that the allegations by Mr. Schoonmaker “is his word against Father's.”

She said she erred by writing a personal letter to Mr. Schoonmaker and “typing my LSW after my name. I shouldn't have; it's just habit.”

Ms. Shultz, who said she was a victim of incest, said some victims of sexual abuse by priests are so angry at the church that they “are not good Christian examples.” She suggested in her letter that Mr. Schoonmaker be placed on a leave from his job as youth minister at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Adrian, while Father Schmelzer is under investigation.

Mr. Schoonmaker, who had worked at St. Joseph's for seven years, resigned last week because, he said, “I cannot, in good conscience, be employed by the Catholic Church.” He said letters from Ms. Shultz and other St. Mary's parishioners were not a factor in his resignation.

He had asked Toledo diocesan officials to intervene and order Ms. Shultz to stop writing to him and his pastor. The diocese said yesterday that Ms. Shultz is not one of its employees and that she is free to express her opinion.

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