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Joliet Diocese: Bishop Can't Be Removed From Ministry Despite Having Molested Boy

JOLIET, Ill. (CBS) -- The Roman Catholic bishop in Joliet is allowing an accused predator priest to return to limited ministry, and advocates for priest sex abuse victims are livid over the decision.

As WBBM Newsradio's Bernie Tafoya reports, the Rev. F. Lee Ryan was removed a couple of years ago from his ministry at St. Edmund Parish in Watseka and St. Joseph Mission in Crescent City, both in downstate Iroquois County.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio's Bernie Tafoya reports


Allegations have been deemed credible that he had sexually abused a boy in the 1970s, starting when the boy was 14.

Now, Joliet Bishop Daniel Conlon is allowing Ryan to minister to homebound Roman Catholics.

The bishop says Rome has decided that at the time Ryan allegedly molested a teen, what he did was not considered a serious crime by the Church according to Church law at the time. For that reason, Conlon ruled, Ryan could not be moved from ministry altogether.

The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests says Church law at the time actually said a 14-year-old was at an age of consent.

"This is a shocking and dangerous move by Bishop Conlon," said a statement from SNAP, which pointed out that Conlon is in charge of children's safety for all of America's bishops as head of the U.S. Catholic bishops' committee on sexual abuse.

"What part of 'one strike and you're out' do Catholic officials not understand?" the SNAP statement read.

Ryan's alleged victim, now 52 and living out of state, was shocked at the decision to keep Ryan in ministry when he learned of it last week.

"I was actually in disbelief. I just couldn't believe that they would (reinstate Ryan)," said the victim, who asked that his identity be kept private.

He said Ryan established a relationship with him while he was a student at Providence Catholic High School in New Lenox.

The man said Ryan would pull him out of class to smoke in a confession room and that he would sometimes drink beer with Ryan at his apartment in the evenings.

When the man told Ryan he thought he was gay, Ryan began taking him on walks through Hammel Woods forest preserve in Shorewood.

They eventually spent weekends together at an Indiana motel, he said. Ryan asked the man to call him Lee so no one would know he was a priest, the man said.

One night when the man was 16, Ryan confronted him while he was in a car parked outside a Joliet bar with another teen his age.

"(Ryan) was very angry," the man said. "He said, 'Aren't God and I enough for you?'"

A few years later, the man moved out of state. He went through years of therapy. After he was laid off from a job about 20 years later, he told his mother about the abuse.

His mother told a friend who worked for then-Bishop J. Peter Sartain, who has since moved on to a post as Archbishop of Seattle. An investigation began, and the man's allegation of abuse was substantiated by the diocese.

The man is still in therapy — paid for by the diocese, he said.

The Joliet Herald-News' Janet Lundquist contributed to this report, via the Sun-Times Media Wire.

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2012. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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