Priest accused of molestation resigns

Associated Press

SEATTLE – The Rev. John Cornelius, accused of molestation by at least a dozen men, has resigned from active ministry, Roman Catholic Archbishop Alex Brunett said Friday.

In a prepared statement, Cornelius, who most recently served in a limited role at two Everett Catholic churches, apologized to his accusers, to Brunett and others.

“I acknowledge my failures and accept responsibility for what I’ve done,” Cornelius said in a statement read by Bill Gallant, a spokesman for the Seattle Archdiocese.

Brunett said he found the complaints credible and turned them over to authorities.

The molestation incidents mentioned by the accusers occurred between 1968 and 1985.

“It saddens me to know that many people have been disturbed or damaged by one of my priests,” the archbishop said in a statement also read by Gallant.

Brunett said the case was reviewed by his special cases committee and he met with Cornelius on Wednesday to remove him from the ministry.

Cornelius voluntarily offered his resignation and Brunett accepted it Friday.

“I’ve tried to be a good priest but it’s obvious I have failed and I accept responsibility,” Cornelius said in the statement read at a news conference.

An outspoken urban priest who drew national attention in the 1980s for championing the cause of black adoption and adopting 13 children himself, Cornelius, 56, has been under the watch since 1997 of a moonlighting state parole officer hired by the archdiocese.

Church officials ordered the monitoring – the only arrangement of its kind, according to a national bishop’s council – after an Idaho man accused the priest in 1996 of abusing him as an adolescent in Boise, Idaho in the early 1970s.

Cornelius, who also was transferred to Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Churches in Everett, and limited in his contacts with parishioners, has been on administrative leave since April. That move came after two men alleged the priest improperly touched them when they were students at a Catholic school in suburban Burien in the 1970s.

Since the two men’s claims were revealed in news coverage, at least 10 others have accused Cornelius of molestation, the archdiocese confirmed last week.

Church and police investigations of the 1996 molestation allegations were inconclusive. However, besides being transferred and made to meet with a parole officer, Cornelius was required to meet regularly with a therapist specializing in sex abuse.

Those moves were made at the recommendation of the archdiocese’s “special cases committee,” including outside experts.

Another such committee was formed by Brunett after the new allegations against Cornelius surfaced earlier this year.

The panel is chaired by Auxiliary Bishop George Thomas and includes former U.S. Attorney Mike McKay, therapists Tim Smith and J. Robert Wheeler, and former King County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Rebecca Roe. Also serving are the Rev. John Madigan, who is a Catholic priest, and church law expert Lynda Robitaille. Half of the panel members are Catholic, Thomas said.

Special cases committees consider statements from accusers, as well as psychological evaluations and testimony from counselors. The archbishop makes the final decision on each case.

A separate committee including law-enforcement and outside experts advises the archbishop on general policy toward priests and other church employees accused of sex abuse.

Cornelius, a native of Philadelphia, was ordained in 1975. He was named parish priest in 1978 at Immaculate Conception church in Seattle’s then-predominantly black Central Area, where he served as a police chaplain and adopted the first of his 13 children in 1983.

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