Accused & Suspended, But Put Back On The Job

by | Feb 22, 2024 | Catholic Church

Suspended Priests Horowitz Law


The recent developments in the Catholic Church, particularly in relation to handling accusations of child molestation against clergy, have raised serious questions and concerns. The cases of clerics being accused, temporarily removed but later reinstated, sometimes in positions involving contact with children, presents a troubling pattern that warrants a deeper examination.

A Troubling Pattern Emerges

In Kansas, an accused predator priest has been moved to a parish with a school, a decision that has sparked outrage and concern among the faithful and the wider community. Similarly, Phil Baniewicz, also once sued for similar allegations, was appointed the head of a school within the same archdiocese. The appointment of an alleged child molester to such a position has understandably caused turmoil within the parish, a situation that was not alleviated by the Archbishop’s recent intervention, which did not go well.

What? You thought bishops promised it’s ‘one strike and you’re out’ when it comes to abuse by clergy? They did. But making a promise and delivering on that promise are two separate things. The vow made by US bishops in 2002 to enforce a “one strike and you’re out” policy regarding clergy abuse has fallen short in practice, as seen in these recent cases. Despite more clerics being temporarily removed from their duties after accusations compared to previous decades, the reinstatement of some under questionable circumstances raises doubts about the efficacy and sincerity of the church’s policies. some bishops let alleged offenders’ step aside for a while or ‘take a leave’ instead of ousting them from parish work for the time being after a child sex abuse report is made against them.

The Role of Statutes of Limitations and Church Panels

A major obstacle in achieving justice for victims is the statutes of limitations, which often prevent disclosure of the truth through the secular justice system due to their archaic and arbitrary nature. The responsibility also lies with bishops who have historically concealed the actions of predator priests.

Church panels play a significant role in determining the fate of accused clerics. However, these panels, consisting of loyal Catholics chosen by bishops, might not always operate with the necessary impartiality. The ultimate decision lies with the bishops, either locally or in Rome, which can sometimes lead to disconcerting outcomes. Many accused abusers, however, live out the rest of their days with no further clarity from the church hierarchy on their clerical or employment status. And sometimes, their status changes in surprising and troubling ways.

Disturbing Instances of Reinstatement

Numerous cases have emerged where clerics, once suspended due to credible allegations of abuse, are later reinstated:

• In 2019, for example, Louisville Archbishop Joseph Kurtz was ordered to reinstate Fr. Joseph Edward Bradley, who had been temporarily removed due to an abuse allegation. The accusation was deemed ‘credible’, and church officials moved to make Fr. Bradley’s suspension permanent. However, the Vatican bureaucracy overruled them and insisted that Fr. Bradley be put back to work and that restrictions on his ministry be lifted, noting that he had engaged in ‘imprudent behavior’.

• Just last year, Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich restored Fr. David Ryan to ministry. But in 2020, Fr. Ryan ‘stepped away’ from his parish due to an abuse allegation. Then, in 2021, Cupich ‘cleared’ him to return to ministry. Within days, however, a local television station reported that another allegation was made against him, so his reinstatement was postponed. He’s presumably still on the job today.

In 2021, Cupich suspended Fr. Michael Pfleger when the priest was accused of abusing a boy. The accuser’s brother soon also said Fr. Pfleger molested him as a boy. Both said the abuse happened over several years. Months later, a third man said Fr. Pfleger made an unwanted sexual advance toward him when the man was 18. According to, a fourth person reportedly may have come forward. A few months later, Cupich reinstated Fr. Pfleger. But the following year, the priest was again suspended when a new allegation of child sexual abuse surfaced. Fr. Pfleger denied all the accusations, and he was reinstated again later in 2022.

In 2020, South Carolina’s Bishop Robert Guglielmone first suspended, then later ‘cleared’ Fr. Javier Heredia of abuse charges. Fr. Heredia now appears to be the Charleston church priest. 

• In 2020, Des Moines Bishop William Joensen suspended Fr. Robert “Bud” Grant following an abuse report involving him. Later that same year, Fr. Grant was allowed to resume his positions at both a local university and parish when church officials said that the allegation didn’t qualify as childhood sexual abuse because the alleged victim was too old under canon law at the time.

• In 2020, Allentown Bishop Alfred Schlert suspended Fr. Robert Potts after receiving sexual abuse allegations against him. But Fr. Potts was reinstated as a pastor when church ‘investigators’ determined that Potts hadn’t committed sex abuse.

• In 2020, Erie Bishop Lawrence Persico put Msgr. Charles A. Kaza back to work after a church committee said it couldn’t substantiate an abuse allegation against him. He had been suspended for less than a year.

• In 2020, Trenton Bishop David O’Connell announced that Fr. Gabriel Zeis would be returned to ministry,” after an allegation of child sexual abuse was deemed “not credible” by his religious order. In 2021, however, diocesan officials told one news outlet that Fr. Zeis had not resumed working in the diocese. It’s unclear where the cleric is now working.

• In 2020, Peter J. Karalus of New York was ousted from ministry after an allegation of sexual misconduct involving a boy in 2011. Weeks later, he was returned to his post after the accusation was deemed ‘unsubstantiated’ by a church panel. (Fr. Karalus was the vicar general and the moderator of the curia of the Buffalo Diocese, both high-ranking positions.)

• In 2020, Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley put Fr. Peter Gori back to work as a pastor in Andover, Massachusetts. Fr. Gori had been placed on leave the year before after being accused of sexually abusing a 10-year-old boy years prior. The cleric’s religious order, the Augustinians, said the allegation was ‘unsubstantiated.’

These examples highlight the systemic issues within the Church’s handling of abuse allegations, raising concerns about the church’s commitment to protecting the vulnerable.

A Few Lessons to Be Learned

The continuous cycle of accusations, suspensions, and reinstatements points towards a problematic system that inadequately addresses reports of child molestation by clerics. The main takeaways from this ongoing issue are clear:

  1. Internal church investigations are flawed**, often designed to protect the institution rather than seek justice for victims.
  2. Reliance on civil and criminal justice systems** provides a more impartial avenue for determining guilt or innocence, offering a better approach for both victims and the church.
  3. Public and media scrutiny is necessary** to hold the church accountable and ensure that bishops do not backslide on their pledges to keep accused child molesting clerics out of ministry.

As media coverage and public attention may diminish over time, it’s imperative to remain vigilant and continue to question whether the Church is upholding its promise to protect the innocent and ensure that those found guilty of such heinous acts are not given positions of trust and authority.

In conclusion, while the Catholic Church has made strides in addressing the issue of clergy abuse, the cases of reinstatement under questionable circumstances underscore a troubling pattern of inconsistency and potential neglect. It’s crucial for the Church to re-evaluate its policies and processes to ensure that it lives up to its moral and ethical obligations to protect the most vulnerable among its flock. The Church can hope to restore trust and foster a safer environment for all its members through transparency, accountability, and a genuine commitment to justice.

Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by religious authority figures and other clergy. If you need a lawyer because a member of a religious organization sexually abused you, contact us today at 888-283-9922 or [email protected] to discuss your options today. Our lawyers have decades of experience representing survivors of clergy sexual abuse nationwide. We can help.