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Published: Friday, 9/1/2006

Ex-priest is allowed to dodge reporters

BY MARK REITER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
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Warren
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It was an unusual ending for an unusual court action involving a former priest who the Toledo Catholic Diocese dismissed over allegations of sexual abuse and is now banned from a West Toledo church.

When ex-priest Chet Warren s appearance at a civil proceeding in Toledo Municipal Court concluded Monday, Judge Robert Christiansen allowed him to leave the courthouse via a nonpublic elevator so he could avoid reporters and cameras.

Mr. Warren is a defendant in a civil complaint filed by the Toledo Diocese to keep the ex-priest from entering Blessed Sacrament Church in West Toledo.

The use of the elevator, which is normally reserved for judges and court personnel, allowed Mr. Warren and his attorney, Martin Mohler, to escape the waiting media by leaving through an underground parking garage below the courthouse that is not open to the public.

The Rev. Michael Billian, Episcopal vicar of the diocese, and attorneys for the Toledo Diocese, who filed the complaint last December against the former priest, left the building by using the same elevator.

Claudia Vercellotti was among those who waited outside the courtroom to learn the outcome of the civil case after Judge Christiansen moved the proceeding behind closed doors.

What makes this so egregious is there is no secret about the history and deference that has been given to the Toledo Catholic Diocese. The church has sought favor and privilege from judges and prosecutors on sex crimes committed against children, said Ms. Vercellotti, a local coordinator of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP.

The parties to the civil suit had met for several hours behind closed doors in the judge s chambers to resolve the complaint filed by diocesan attorneys against Mr. Warren, who was barred from ministry over allegations of child sexual abuse.

A consent judgment approved by Judge Christiansen and filed that day with the court forbids Mr. Warren from going into Blessed Sacrament Church and its neighboring parochial elementary school.

Judge Christiansen said he allowed Mr. Warren and the others to leave through the elevator because they didn t want to walk through the media. He said that he couldn t remember allowing use of the secured elevator by anyone else during the eight months he has been on the bench.

The diocese filed the civil complaint against the former priest in December after he allegedly violated an agreement he made with the pastor of the parish that limited his access to the church s Eucharistic Chapel.

Mr. Warren was only allowed to enter the chapel before 6 a.m., and he could only do so while accompanied by an adult male.

The consent judgement states that Mr. Warren could be found in civil contempt and subject to fine or sanctions if he violates the agreement.

Mr. Warren, by his signature, agreed to a judgment against himself in line with the diocese s demand that he stay away from the Blessed Sacrament parish campus, Sally Oberski, diocesan spokesman, said.

Municipal Court Administrator Pam Roberts said anyone who has business in the court, including defendants and plaintiffs in lawsuits and their attorneys, are required to pass through court security. She said allowing the departure of the parties through the nonpublic elevator was unusual. I would say that is not a common occurrence, she said.

Four local Republican politicians who were prosecuted in municipal court for violating state ethics disclosure laws recently entered and left the courthouse in the presence of the media.

Lucas County Commissioner Maggie Thurber, Toledo City Councilman Betty Shultz, former Toledo Mayor Donna Owens, and former state Rep. Sally Perz were convicted and sentenced for their roles in former Maumee coin dealer Tom Noe s alleged scheme to avoid federal campaign finance limits.

According to Ms. Oberski, Father Billian and the others didn t know that their departure from the courthouse was anything unusual, and they were grateful that it provided shelter from the inclement weather.

Contact Mark Reiter at: markreiter@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.



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