File on alleged priest abuse gone

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Priest removed from active ministry locally in 2002 barred this week in Texas

The Times Leader

01 July 2004


A file with information related to a potential priest-abuse case is missing from the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office.

Monroe County District Attorney E. David Christine Jr. said any criminal investigation into former Bishop Hafey High School priest Christopher Clay will not move forward unless alleged victims come forward.

A sexual-abuse allegation against Clay by a young man arose in 2002 during a separate diocese investigation into two priests at the Society of St. John in Pike County. Clay, who is not the subject of criminal charges or a lawsuit, is being investigated by the Diocese of Scranton.

Christine said Clay’s case file was under the care of former District Attorney Mark Pazuhanich.

Pocono Mountain Regional Police told Christine this week that Pazuhanich made an unusual request in 2002 that the file be given directly to him instead of an assistant district attorney. Usually, an assistant district attorney reviews cases and then confers with the district attorney to determine whether charges should be filed.

Christine recently talked with his employees, who said they had not seen the file. “(The file) never got beyond him,” Christine said of Pazuhanich. Christine said he’s not accusing Pazuhanich, who is awaiting trial on child molestation charges in Wilkes-Barre, of wrongdoing related to the missing file.

Pazuhanich had said in a May 2002 interview with the Times Leader that Clay’s alleged misconduct happened two to three years earlier in the Mount Pocono area. He had said the alleged victim was a juvenile at the time.

Pazuhanich had said the investigation was ongoing and no charges had been filed. He said the Pocono Mountain Regional Police Department also was investigating. Pazuhanich could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Christine said he learned about the missing file after a Dallas, Texas, newspaper published a story Wednesday about Clay. The priest recently celebrated Mass in a Fort Worth church despite the Diocese of Scranton removing him from active ministry in 2002.

Christine said the missing file originated with the Lackawanna County District Attorney’s Office and a copy was forwarded to the Pocono Mountain Regional Police Department.

The district attorney said he believed the file contained information of a civil nature such as a videotape of a deposition. He said the file contained nothing that couldn’t be reconstructed if needed.

The same young man who made sexual abuse allegations against Clay filed a lawsuit as “John Doe” in federal court in Scranton against two other priests, the Rev. Eric Ensey and the Rev. Carlos Urrutigoity. That case is pending.

In a deposition included in the federal lawsuit against Ensey and Urrutigoity, John Doe testified Clay had invited him to the Oratory in Monroe County. He said Clay “proceeded to get me roaring drunk. I remember throwing up in his room all over myself and him taking me into the next room and undressing me and then I woke up naked the next morning.”

Christine said no alleged victim approached law enforcement to request a criminal investigation regarding Clay.

John Doe’s attorney, James Bendell of Port Townsend, Wash., reacted Wednesday to the missing file. “This snafu makes me really worry whether the children of Pennsylvania are being protected from potentially dangerous predators.”

The Diocese of Fort Worth this week barred Clay from participating in church activities in the Texas diocese.

Diocese of Fort Worth Chancellor, the Rev. Robert Wilson, said Wednesday that Clay was assisting at St. Mary the Virgin Church in Arlington, Texas. Wilson said the church’s pastor, a longtime friend of Clay’s, had not verified Clay was in good standing.

Wilson said unless Clay has permission to minister in the Diocese of Scranton, he cannot minister in the Fort Worth diocese. “We can’t let him celebrate Mass or perform sacraments.”

The chancellor said he will notify parishes in the Diocese of Fort Worth that Clay should not assist in any church activities.

Orzel said Clay was removed from active ministry after his name surfaced during an investigation into an allegation against the two priests at the Society of St. John. Since February 2003, she said, Clay has been on leave from all ministerial activity in the diocese.

Clay received permission to live privately in Dallas, Texas, where he had grown up, she said. Orzel said Clay had a job there reviewing medical insurance claims. He did not return a message left Wednesday at his home.

Orzel said no diocese had contacted the Scranton diocese to request a report on Clay’s status as a priest, nor to ask that he be allowed to function as a priest.

Bendell said his client had initiated an ecclesiastical judicial process against Clay.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops met in Texas in 2002 to adopt a new policy. When sexual abuse is admitted or proven, a priest must be permanently removed from ministry – regardless of when the incident occurred.

Bonnie Adams, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 829-7241.

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