Church takes steps to defrock Anchorage priest

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The Catholic Archdiocese of Anchorage said Tuesday it will take steps to defrock a longtime priest suspected of inappropriate behavior with women.

Father J. Michael Hornick resigned in 2009 as pastor of St. Nicholas of Myra Byzantine Catholic Church after allegations were made by three adult women that he had engaged in inappropriate — not criminal — behavior.

After the claims were made public, two more adult women came forward and said they had inappropriate contact with Hornick decades before when they were minors, said Father Thomas Brundage, a spokesman for the archdiocese.

Hornick has been forbidden for more than three years from identifying himself as a priest, wearing priest garb or performing sacraments, Brundage said. Only the Vatican can laicize a priest and the process is in motion, Brundage said.

“We would like to finalize that by having him be returned to the lay state,” Brundage said.

The allegations tarnish Hornick’s reputation, his lawyer, Wayne Anthony Ross, said in a statement. Ross said Hornick “vehemently denies any such abuse to adults or minors” and welcomes the canonical process to present his defense.

Ross aid the archdiocese has never formally presented specifics of the allegations to Hornick. He has been “unable to verify the identity of his accusers, and has otherwise been fundamentally deprived of the cherished right of self-defense,” Ross said.

“For the Archdiocese to attempt to prosecute this case in the court of public opinion by its press release without giving Father Mike the chance to first defend himself is deplorable and unjust,” Ross said. “The actions of the Archdiocese may even be un-Christian.”

Hornick was a priest for more than 40 years. The first allegation involving women was reported in 1997 and the church sent Hornick to a treatment facility for about six months.

Hornick returned to Anchorage and in 2006 was named pastor of St. Nicholas of Myra church, which is under the authority of the Van Nuys Eparchy based in Phoenix. It covers western states.

A second woman came forward in 2009, and as her allegations were investigated, a third woman made allegations, Brundage said.

“Once we got to three, we knew we had a priest who had a problem because this was beginning to be a pattern,” Brundage said. “It was the same kind of behavior in each case.”

At least two of the women were considered to be vulnerable adults and were treated as child victims, he said. He described the behavior as unwanted physical activity such as attempts to kiss on the lips, prolonged hugs and touching of legs.

“In any case, it was inappropriate on the priest’s part. It always is,” Brundage said.

Archbishop Roger Schwietz suspended Hornick in January 2011. The allegations were announced, Brundage said, to warn the public of Hornick’s behavior and to seek more possible victims.

Two more adult women came forward claiming inappropriate behavior by Hornick when they were minors. Both allegations were reported to police, Brundage said. Since one incident occurred 30 years ago and the other 20 years ago, police declined to investigate because the statute of limitations had run out, he said

The women sought no compensation, Brundage said, but requested that Hornick no longer be recognized as a priest.

“We would like to honor the request,” he said.

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith in November said the archdiocese could conduct an administrative procedure to laicize Hornick, a process that takes far less time and has a lower burden of proof than a judicial procedure.

Hornick has a canon lawyer defending him and will get his day in court, Brundage said.

“He’s got a right to defense but the evidence is very substantial in this case,” he said.

A panel of three canon lawyers will make a recommendation about guilt or innocence and a possible penalty and forward it to Rome. A decision once confirmed by the Vatican cannot be appealed.

Brundage said a resolution could take four to six months.

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