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  Home :: 2007 September :: Priest's suicide linked to abuse scandal
Priest's suicide linked to abuse scandal
The following is an edited version of a paper reportedly sent tocertain priests in the Altoona-Johnstown, Pa., Catholic dioceseregarding Father William Rosensteel, who committed suicide in late June 2007after an allegation of sexual misconduct became public. The paper,provided to me by a source in the diocese, was written by a supporterof Father Rosensteel.

Chronicle of Father William Rosensteel's Last Months

March, 2007- June 24, 2007

    'In early March 2007, Father Rosensteel was summoned to the bishop'soffice where he met with the bishop and the vicar general. He was notaccompanied by a canonist or anyone else. He was told that aparishioner from a parish in which he served from 1971 to 1972 hadcontacted attorney Serbin and claimed Father Rosensteel had hadinappropriate contact with him in that period.

    'Father Rosensteel declined to read whatever documents were offered tohim, but he did discuss the allegation to some extent, without thebenefit of canonical counsel. He was asked if he had any place to liveif he were to be removed from his parish. He said, 'No.' He was toldthat he could live at Dmitri Manor. The vicar general also told him hemight consider preparing himself for a life of prayer and penance.(Father Rosensteel had one or two anonymous claims made against himprior to the latest one, but nothing was done since he did not know thename of the accuser and, thus, could not respond.)

    'Father Rosensteel asked if he should seek canonical or civil legalcounsel. The vicar general gave him the name and phone number of acanonist in Erie. He was told he should not seek civil legal counsel,nor was he to wear clerical attire outside the parish.

    'The following week, approximately March 8, 2007, Father Rosensteel wassummoned to the vicar general's office, this time accompanied by apriest-friend, and was told he should vacate Holy Rosary Parish beforethe weekend. He was not to celebrate Mass publicly or function in anyway as a priest. He was told the vicar general would compose a letterthat the bishop would send to Rome for his case. The vicar general toldhim that, depending upon Rome's response, he might be able to functionin a limited capacity in the future.

    'The vicar general also told Father Rosensteel that letters might besent to parishes where he had served and a statement might be publishedin The Catholic Register.He was shown the quarters at Dmitri Manor, into which he moved on March10. He was not informed of when any further action would be takenagainst him or what the contents of the letter to be sent to Rome wouldcontain.

    'The bishop called Father Rosensteel once in the course of four months.Father Rosensteel asked him what the next move would be. The bishopreplied that the diocesan review board could not meet before the end ofApril due to Holy Week observances and other commitments. The onlyother contact Father Rosensteel had with the vicar general was in May,when he appeared at Father Rosensteel's door at Dmitri Manor, orderinghim to write a letter of resignation from the pastorate of Holy RosaryParish, since it would 'come into play in the June assignments.' FatherRosensteel complied with the demand again without counsel. FatherRosensteel moved into an apartment in Hollidaysburg on June 1.

    'On June 19, the current pastors of the parishes in which FatherRosensteel had served over the past 38 years received letters from thebishop ordering them to read an enclosed letter at all Masses thefollowing weekend (June 23/24) regarding the allegation ofinappropriate behavior by Father Rosensteel. At least some of thepastors were reluctant to read the letter. Father Rosensteel learned onTuesday, June 19, that these letters were to be read.

    '(As an aside, the letter ordered to be read at these parishes assertedthat Fr. Rosensteel took a leave of absence to attend to healthproblems. Although he had health problems and spoke of early retirementin recent years, the only reason he left Holy Rosary when he did wasbecause he was ordered to do so. It should be noted that the letteralso states that 'the case has been referred to the civil authoritiesand, following their response, it will be sent to the Holy See'sCongregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for final determination.')

    'Due to concerns not only about the canonical propriety of having suchletters read publicly at Sunday Masses, but also about the morality ofdoing so, on June 20 a retired Jesuit professor in Rome was contacted.

    'In a subsequent communication, the Jesuit professor said the canonlawyer for the CDF stated if the accusation against the priest was notproven and publicly known, 'the procedure you described to me in yourletter, although he [the CDF canonist] is aware that in the U.S. it issometimes applied, 'is wrong and immoral.''

    'On Friday morning, June 22, one of the pastors ordered to read toparishioners the letter concerning Father Rosensteel spoke to thecanonist at the CDF. The canonist told the pastor that he should notread the letter and that he (the canonist) would be glad to explain tothe bishop why it would be wrong to do so.

    'The pastor apparently decided not to read the letter at Masses thatSunday, and some priests who had been very concerned about the matterwere going to attempt to convey the canonist's advice to the otherpastors involved. But the letter ended up being printed in the diocesannewspaper, which was already in the mail. Many priests were outraged.

    'Father Rosensteel had no canonist to advise or represent him. He wasgiven the name of a canonist in a neighboring diocese when he first metwith the bishop and vicar general. When Father Rosensteel called thiscanonist, he was told that he (the canonist) could not represent himbecause of his work with officials in the diocese. The canonist saidthat when any canonical action was taken, he would recommend anothercanonist to help. More than a month after Father Rosensteel was removedfrom his parish, he again called the canonist, who him that he would bein contact with Father Rosensteel within a week. The canonist nevercontacted him.

    'Father Rosensteel, on June 24, after a trip of two days transporting amissionary from India to the missionary's next assignment in Buffalo,New York, returned to his apartment and saw the bishop's statement inthe diocesan newspaper. Subsequently, Father Rosensteel drove to abridge and jumped off.

    'This information was also forwarded to Rome....

    'If this tragedy is to be redeemed in some way, it will only be if we learn from it. Here is what I believe we should learn:

    'People can be pushed only so far. We must be careful in the way wetreat others, whether they be clergy or laity. God only knows how closeto 'the edge' another person is. We all need to be gentle with others.

    'We need to remember how important a person's good name is. Toknowingly harm a person's reputation without just cause and clearevidence is a serious violation of the Eighth Commandment. Theconsequences of such violations are far-reaching and irreversible.

    'The Church must continue to do all in her power to protect childrenfrom abuse, especially by members of the clergy. But the Church mustalso develop a system that protects priests from potentially harmingthemselves. Even a priest who is known to be guilty of the crime ofchild abuse should not be required to forfeit his life to satisfyattorneys, insurance companies, the media and plaintiffs. How much moreis this true of a priest whose 'case' has not yet been decided?'

MattC. Abbott is a Catholic columnist with a Bachelor of Arts degree inCommunication, Media and Theatre from Northeastern Illinois Universityin Chicago, and an Associate in Applied Science degree in BusinessManagement from Triton College in River Grove, Ill. He is the formerdirector of public affairs for the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action Leagueand the former executive director of the Illinois Right to LifeCommittee. He was a contributor to The Wanderer Catholic newspaper andhad numerous letters to the editor published in major newspapers,including the New York Times, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, theChicago Tribune, and the Chicago Sun-Times. He can be reached

Copyright 2007 by Matt C. Abbott 

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Pedophilia and sexual abuse of children in Australia