Series Describes Abuse by Indiana Priests

By Malcolm, Teresa | National Catholic Reporter, February 28, 1997 | Go to article overview

Series Describes Abuse by Indiana Priests


Malcolm, Teresa, National Catholic Reporter


In a three-day series, Indianapolis' two newspapers claimed that recent investigations had uncovered a shockingly high number of priests accused of sexual abuse in the Lafayette, Ind., diocese.

At least 16 current and former priests in the mostly rural diocese have been accused of sexual abuse or misconduct in the past 25 years, according to stories published in The Indianapolis Star and The Indianapolis News Feb 16-18.

Victims in the cases described by the articles were of both genders and ranged from children to adults counseled by priests. The newspapers charged that Bishop William L. Higi of Lafayette has not dealt adequately with the problem, concealing knowledge of abusers, allowing some to return to active ministry and failing to fully account for the number of victims.

Higi called the series "a product of clever spins and a preconceived agenda."

Diocesan officials, according to the newspapers, said there had been a total of 12 troubled priests during the past 12 years.

Both Higi and Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein of Indianapolis released statements questioning the usefulness of such investigative reports in dealing with the problem of sexual abuse.

Both statements asked Catholics to pray and fast in Lent "to help turn our society from its fascination with the culture of death and the sensationalism of evil that is a part of that culture to a love and appreciation of the Gospel of Life."

Dr. Fred Berlin, director of the sexual disorders clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, told the papers that two to three percent of priests are accused of misconduct nationally. Even accounting for retired priests, the rate in the Lafayette diocese is at least 16 percent, according to newspaper reports. "That's an awfully high percentage," Berlin said, "the highest I've ever seen."

The number of victims is not clear. At one point, the diocese said it helped pay for therapy for up to 40 victims, then later said the number could be as low as 20.

Among the priests named was Msgr. Arthur Sego, who has been accused of abusing young girls and pregnant women who came to him for counseling starting in the 1950s. Sego admitted to asking the girls and women to strip and of exposing himself to them. However, he called other accusations exaggerations.

Sego, 75, was removed from ministry in 1994 and was sent to a retirement home near St. Louis. He is barred from publicly functioning as a priest and cannot leave the home without supervision.

Fr. Ron Voss, 55, engaged in "inappropriate touching and sexual manipulation" with teenage boys in the 1970s and 80s, according to the diocesan vicar general, Fr. Robert Sell, who investigates sexual abuse and misconduct cases. Sell says the boys were between the ages of 16 and 18, past Indiana's legal age of consent, which is 16. However, some accusers say the abuse occurred when they were between 13 and 15. Voss received therapy but continued as a priest in Indiana and Haiti for five years after 1988 when he was first accused of abuse. Voss resigned from ministry in 1993.

However, some priests from the Lafayette diocese said after visits to Haiti that Voss may still be celebrating Mass and may be taking children home with him. Voss was interviewed on national television about violence in Haiti in 1994, and was referred to as "Fr. Voss" and a "priest from Indiana." When the Lafayette priests brought their concerns to the attention of the diocese, a written rebuke from Sell, the vicar general, said that Voss has not functioned as a priest since his resignation and has "kept constant vigilance over himself."

Higi, a longtime friend of Voss as well as Sego, visited Voss in a trip to inspect church missions in Haiti. The bishop calls Voss a "success story" and says that Voss feels great regret for his behavior.

In his work with the needy, Voss comes in contact with young people, a position Voss should not be in, Dr. …

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