Church limits priest’s duties

  • By Jim Haley and Kaitlin Manry / Herald Writers
  • Friday, September 29, 2006 9:00pm
  • Local NewsLocal news

SNOHOMISH – A Roman Catholic parish priest and pastor in Snohomish for two decades will be punished for allegedly abusing an altar boy in the early 1970s.

The Archdiocese of Seattle on Friday announced that the Rev. Dennis V. Champagne has been put on the status “of a priest on prayer and penance” and has been permanently restricted from public ministry.

That means Champagne will remain a priest, “but he is still serving a penalty,” archdiocese spokesman Greg Magnoni said Friday. He will be able to administer the sacraments in a limited and private way, but only with the permission of Archbishop Alex Burnett, Magnoni said.

Champagne served as a parish priest at St. Michael Parish from 1971 to 1979 before being named pastor there. He served until 1999. He later served at St. John Bosco Parish in Pierce County and Immaculate Conception Parish, Steilacoom, until he was placed on administrative leave in June 2002.

The allegations have left many in the parish angry, sad and confused.

“I was sure he was going to be cleared,” said Marian Zweber, who has been a parishioner at the Snohomish church for the better part of 25 years. Zweber said Champagne performed marriage ceremonies for some of her children.

“As far as I was concerned, he gave wonderful sermons. … You could always talk to him.”

Zweber said Champagne sometimes took her children, who were also altar servers, to movies. When the allegations about the priest first surfaced in 2002, she asked her six children if they had been touched inappropriately. They said no, she said.

The allegations surfaced well after the statute of limitations for a criminal investigation, Magnoni said.

“I think the result here is very much what the victims would hope for,” he said. He said he also believes the single allegation is the only one made against Champagne.

St. Michael’s new pastor, the Rev. Joseph DeFolco, said he spoke with many parishioners about the sadness and anger they feel.

“He was the one who was there to celebrate births and baptisms,” said DeFolco, who has been with the parish for almost four years. He is also the Snohomish County dean and the pastor at Holy Cross Catholic Church in Lake Stevens.

“He was there to celebrate the sacraments and marriages. He was the one there for weddings and anniversaries, and he was there when many of the loved ones died. … There’s been tremendous sadness.”

Allegations of sexual abuse have been levied against 13 Seattle archdiocese priests.

Nine were punished either with complete removal from the priesthood or a punishment similar to that imposed on Champagne. In four cases, allegations against priests were found not to be credible, Magnoni said.

The decision to punish Champagne followed the recommendations of the archdiocesan review board, part of a procedure conducted under church law and the process established in 2002 by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Magnoni said.

The review board conducted an investigation, similar to a trial, in which Champagne had an opportunity to defend himself. The board consisted of lay persons, both Catholic and non-Catholic, Magnoni said.

The confidential inquiry did not specify where the alleged abuse occurred.

The board’s recommendation went to the archbishop, who forwarded it to the Vatican. The Vatican made the final decision to punish Champagne, he said.

“I again express my deep regret for the harm done to all victims of clergy child sexual abuse and extend my personal apology to them and their families,” Brunett said in a statement. “My hope is that by following due process and pursuing these cases to a decisive conclusion we have assisted the victims in their process of healing.”

DeFolco said he will tell parishioners about the Vatican’s findings during weekend Masses.

He said it’s a good reminder that we all need to take steps to ensure children’s safety. Since the allegations against Champagne were made public, the parish has started requiring full background checks for volunteers and staff, he said

“Now that Rome has finally come out with a final decision, my hope is that everyone who’s involved in this situation may find some healing, find some closure, and find some peace,” he said Friday. “That’s my greatest hope and my prayer.”

Champagne’s case was the last local allegation of clergy sexual abuse reviewed by the archdiocesan review board that was awaiting final disposition from the Vatican.

Reporter Jim Haley: 425-339-3447 or haley@heraldnet.com.

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