Thursday, October 9, 2003

Diocese suspends pastor in Gallatin Co.


Priest also headed boys' home

By Jim Hannah
The Cincinnati Enquirer

BURLINGTON - A longtime Northern Kentucky priest who also was director of a home for troubled boys has been permanently suspended from the ministry after allegations of sexual misconduct with a child.

The Rev. George J. Schuhmacher of the Peaselburg neighborhood of Covington is one of 17 priests whom the Diocese of Covington has removed since the Roman Catholic Church sex-abuse scandal became national news.

Schuhmacher ran St. Joseph's Catholic Church, the only Catholic parish in rural Gallatin County for the last seven years. Before that, he had served as director of the Campbell Lodge Boys Home in Cold Spring, a center for troubled boys.

The diocese on Wednesday issued a one-paragraph statement about Schuhmacher's status: "Pursuant to the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People (Revised Edition) and Essential Norms for Diocesan Policies Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests or Deacons ... Schuhmacher, in January 2003, was permanently suspended from ministry. He is not permitted to celebrate Mass publicly, wear clerical garb, or present himself publicly as a priest."

Diocesan spokesman Tim Fitzgerald would not elaborate on Schuhmacher's removal.

However, Boone County Sheriff's Department authorities said Wednesday they are reviewing a complaint of sex abuse filed against Schuhmacher in 1983. A 13-year-old in Schuhmacher's care at the boys home claimed in May of that year that the priest provided him alcohol and then sexually molested him during a campout at a farm on Long Branch Road in Union. The boy's report was filed with the now-defunct Boone County Police Department on May 28.

Schuhmacher had returned to the boys home by 1986 and was moved to the Gallatin County parish in 1996, where he remained until his suspension in January.

Major Jack Banks, the chief detective of the county sheriff's department, said he is trying to determine the outcome of the previous investigation.

A search of Boone County court records has turned up no formal charge or disposition of the case involving the boy. One possible reason is that the records of the charge were destroyed after five years, as required in misdemeanor cases. Pat Gutzeit, the Boone Clerk of Courts, said another possible reason that the case filed cannot be found is because the case was handled in juvenile court, in which records are closed to the public. It is not clear whether Schuhmacher was ever charged, and if so, charged with a felony or a misdemeanor.

Because the outcome remains unknown, authorities are not sure whether double jeopardy would prevent them from filing new charges in the case.

The diocese identified Schuhmacher and his status with the church only after the sheriff said he was reviewing the case.

Schuhmacher could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Neighbors said he had been out of town for a week.

The sheriff's decision to review the 1983 case came about at the same time lawyers representing alleged victims of priest sex abuse in Northern Kentucky referred to the allegation in court. Cincinnati Attorney Bob Steinberg used the 1983 case and the Diocese of Covington's continued use of priests accused of sexual misconduct as an example of a cover-up by the diocese during his argument to obtain class-action status. The judge granted the class-action status, believed to be the first of its kind involving the sex-abuse allegations against priests.

The diocese denies any cover-up.

The boys home did not return phone calls seeking comment.

E-mail jhannah@enquirer.com




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