Two Catholic priests removed for alleged sex abuse in US: Church

Two Catholic priests accused of sexually abusing minors were removed from their religious functions this week in Minnesota, less than a month before a US visit by Pope Francis.

AFP| Last Updated: Sep 04, 2015, 01:26 AM IST

Minnesota: Two Catholic priests accused of sexually abusing minors were removed from their religious functions this week in Minnesota, less than a month before a US visit by Pope Francis.

The actions come just three months after the pope accepted the resignations of the archbishop of Minneapolis and St Paul and another bishop for failing to act on complaints against another priest, who is now in prison for sexual abusing two minors.

The pope, who begins a US visit September 22, has taken a tougher stance than his predecessors in dealing with pedophile clergy scandals.

The Minneapolis archdiocese identified the two priests removed from ministry this week as Joseph Gallatin and Robert Fitzgerald.

Gallatin was first accused of "inappropriate physical contact with a minor" in 1998, but three archdiocesan review boards found insufficient evidence that it constituted sexual abuse.

A new review board, however, obtained additional information and concluded there was sufficient evidence to refer Gallatin`s case to Rome to be adjudicated under cannon law, the archdiocese said. He denies the accusation.

Until the matter is resolved by the Vatican, Gallatin "is prohibited from celebrating Mass in the presence of laity, hearing confessions, preaching, assisting at weddings or funerals or otherwise engaging in any priestly ministry," Tom Halden, the archdiocese spokesman said.

Gallatin "is not permitted to wear a collar or present himself as a priest publically," Halden added.

The archdiocese said it acted against Fitzgerald, a parish priest and school pastor in Roseville, Minnesota, after receiving an allegation he sexually abused a minor in the 1980s.

In a statement Saturday, the archdiocese said it had reported the allegation to law enforcement and placed Fitzgerald on a leave of absence, saying he would not "exercise priestly ministry."

"It will be treated as credible while the investigation is underway," the archdiocese said Saturday.

"The definition of `credible` in this context means `not manifestly false or frivolous.` It is neither a presumption nor a determination of guilt," it said.

Archbishop John Niensted and auxiliary bishop Lee Piche stepped down in June after prosecutors accused them of mishandling repeated complaints about sex abuse by priests.

In April, another American bishop, Robert Finn of Kansas City, resigned after being convicted of failing to report a priest suspected of child sex abuse.