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Lawrence Co. Priest Accused Of Sexual Abuse, Placed On Leave

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- A priest who recently served as a pastor in Lawrence County has been placed on administrative leave after being accused of sexually abusing a minor.

Bishop David Zubik says the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh learned of allegations made against 74-year-old Father James Downs on Thursday.

Downs is accused of sexually abusing a minor in the early '90s when he served as the chaplain to the former Youth Development Center in New Castle. The allegation has been reported to law enforcement and according to the Diocese, no prior victim has ever come forward against Downs.

The Diocese says Downs denies the allegation.

father james downs
(Photo Credit: New Castle News)

Downs served as pastor of Christ the King Parish in Bessemer/Hillsville and Saint James the Apostle Parish in Pulaski until he retired in July 2018.

Priests on administrative leave may not engage in public ministry, dress as priests or otherwise present themselves as priests in good standing.

The allegation will be investigated. If it is deemed unsubstantiated, Downs' faculties for ministry will be restored.

A letter from Zubik will be read this weekend at all parishes where Downs has served. The Diocese says the letter "explains that the Diocese of Pittsburgh will follow its policies and those of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People."

"If a determination is made that [Downs] did what he is accused of, those restrictions will become permanent. If it is determined that the allegation is unfounded, all that is possible will be done to restore [his] reputation and return him to ministry," Zubik says in the letter.

Victims of clergy sex abuse are urged to contact the Diocesan Assistance Coordinator at 1-888-808-1235 or the Pennsylvania state abuse hotline at 1-800-932-0313.

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