“Not guilty of grave delict”: Joliet priest permitted to resume limited ministry after abuse accusation

A reader sent this my way with a note: “Don’t these guys understand how bad this looks to the public, especially when the won’t consent to talk about the decision but hide behind Canon Law?”


The Diocese of Joliet is not denying that the Rev. F. Lee Ryan had inappropriate sexual relations with a minor.

But Ryan is being returned to the ministry based the Vatican’s interpretation of an obscure tenet of canon law that suggests such conduct can be tolerated if the victim was at least 16.

Except the victim says he was 14 at the time.

And he’s baffled by a decision implying that his age at the time made all the difference.

“I can only tell you that’s what they tell me, but I don’t know what that means,” said the victim, who does not want his identity revealed. “I don’t know canon law from anything. But it seems to me ludicrous and out of sync with what happened.”

The law calls for discipline up to removal from the priesthood for adultery with minors under the age of 16. But Ryan is being reinstated to what the diocese described this week as “very limited ministry” to homebound parishioners in the Watseka area.

Bishop R. Daniel Conlon, leader of the diocese, would not consent to an interview on the matter but referred in a written statement to the ruling by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome.

In a response to questions submitted in writing, Conlon wrote, “The Congregation issued a decision that Fr. Ryan is not guilty of grave delict (“serious crime”) under the 1917 Code of Law which was in effect at the time of the alleged abuse. The letter from the Congregation simply cited one Canon (2359 p2) without further explanation.”

That Canon says: “If they have committed a crime against the sixth commandment with a minor under sixteen years of age, or have committed adultery, rape, bestiality, sodomy, pandering, or incest with any person related to them by consanguinity or affinity in the first degree, they shall be suspended, declared infamous, deprived of any office, benefice, dignity, or position which they may have, and in more serious cases, shall be deposed.”

Conlon did say his predecessor, Bishop J. Peter Sartain, with the help of a review committee sent the allegations against Ryan to Rome after determining that there was “enough evidence that the alleged abuse may have occurred.”

But Conlon said it was not appropriate to discuss publicly what the church found to be the extent of Ryan’s conduct.

As to whether he had any authority to bar Ryan from active ministry despite the decision from Rome, Conlon wrote, “The Bishops are obligated to follow the directives of the Holy See.”

Read more.

There’s additional reporting at the Chicago Tribune and Catholic Culture.

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