04/09/2002

Six New York Priests Suspended; Allegations of Sexual Misconduct Continue to Swirl

by Dunstan Prial, Associated Press

NEW YORK - Six priests from the Archdiocese of New York have been suspended over allegations of sexual misconduct and their names have been handed over to prosecutors, the latest developments in an ongoing church probe that also include new allegations of misconduct in California.

The Roman Catholic archdiocese did not release the names of the priests because not all of the allegations had been substantiated, archdiocese spokesman Joseph Zwilling said in a statement Sunday.

The news comes less than a week after the archdiocese said it had given the Manhattan district attorney's office a list of cases involving priests who have been accused of sexual misconduct with minors.

"The priests in question have been informed that they are not to present themselves as priests or exercise their priestly ministry publicly at least until the matter is further clarified or resolved," the statement said.

Officials would not comment on when the alleged abuses took place. Zwilling said worshippers from parishes where priests were asked to step down were notified by letter.

With 2.4 million members, the New York archdiocese is the nation's third largest.

The Catholic Church has been rocked in recent months by accusations of sexual misconduct by priests.

Also Sunday, a pastor approached last month about sexual abuse allegations involving Los Angeles Cardinal Roger M. Mahony said he believes the claims are false.

Flora Mae Hickman, 51, of Fresno, alleges she was molested by Mahony while a student at San Joaquin Memorial Catholic High School in 1969. After leading Sunday Mass at St. John's Cathedral in Fresno, Calif., Monsignor John Esquivel said, "I don't believe the allegations are true."

Hickman said she has been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and is taking medication for depression. She told The Associated Press that she was knocked unconscious while fighting with students and woke to find the "bottom" portion of her clothing removed and Mahony, then a monsignor in Fresno, "over her."

Hickman said she could not remember many details of what happened. She has not alleged that Mahony touched her.

"She claimed that happened with 40 different youths watching. There's no way that is going to happen in front of all those people," Esquivel said.

Hickman went to Esquivel with the allegations last month. The Fresno Police Department is investigating, and Mahony said he was cooperating. Mahony revealed the accusation Friday night and denied it.

The AP does not normally identify alleged victims in sexual assault cases, but Hickman gave permission for her name to be used.

In other developments:

- The Rev. Ponciano Ramos, a priest in the San Bernardino Diocese, has resigned after admitting he attacked boys several years ago. Ramos was charged with child molestation for allegedly fondling three boys in Indianapolis in 1992, but pleaded guilty to lesser charges of battery and received an 18-month suspended sentence, the Chicago Tribune reported Sunday.

- The Boston Globe reported Sunday that another priest in the San Bernardino Diocese was transferred from Boston in 1990 even though he had faced decades of sexual abuse complaints.

A lawsuit alleges the Rev. Paul R. Shanley, 71, repeatedly raped a boy during the 1980s when he was pastor of a church in Newton, Mass. The molestation allegedly started when the boy was six and continued until he was 11.

An attorney for alleged victim Gregory Ford, now 24, said he planned to release details Monday of church documents that he alleges show the Boston Archdiocese knew of the complaints.

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