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Joliet bishop again removes priest accused of improper sexual relations

The Rev. Lee Ryan is shown this file photo. Supplied

The Rev. Lee Ryan is shown in this file photo. Supplied

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Updated: October 20, 2012 6:17AM

The Diocese of Joliet has decided to again remove from public ministry a priest who was accused of inappropriate relations with a minor four decades ago.

The Rev. F. Lee Ryan, 79, was put back into limited ministry last week after a ruling from the Vatican.

But Bishop R. Daniel Conlon announced Tuesday he has decided to put Ryan back on “full administrative leave.”

In a written statement, Conlon said, “Last week I announced that Father F. Lee Ryan would be permitted to exercise a very narrow priestly ministry. Subsequent discussions that have occurred since that decision have highlighted that any action needs to fulfill the larger need of the church to confront the scandal of child abuse in its midst and diligently restore trust.

“For the sake of the greater good of the church, I have decided to revoke my earlier permission and once again place Ryan on full administrative leave.”

Conlon said he would “initiate further conversations” with the panel in Rome that found Ryan not guilty based on a church law in place at the time of the alleged abuse. That law referred to discipline against priests who engage in adultery or improper touching with people younger than 16, and the Vatican ruled Ryan did not violate that law.

His accuser, though, has said he was 14 at the time of the alleged incidents.

Ryan has denied the allegations.

“What is of paramount importance is to manifest the Catholic church’s commitment to safeguard youth and vulnerable adults,” Conlon said in the statement.

Conlon heads a U.S. bishops’ Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People.

In 2010, when the accusations surfaced, Ryan was removed as pastor of St. Edmund’s Parish in Watseka and St. Joseph’s Mission in nearby Crescent City.

Last week, Conlon announced Ryan was being returned to limited ministry in the Watseka area for homebound parishioners because of the ruling from Rome finding him not guilty.

The decision was met with criticism both from supporters of the accuser and supporters of Ryan because it appeared to be based on church law without a finding of whether the accusations were considered credible.

Ryan has strong support in his Watseka parish, where some members have been working on his behalf to try to reinstate him.

This week, two of those supporters, Andy Guimond and Dick Arie, issued a statement calling decisions made by three Joliet bishops involved in Ryan’s case “questionable at best.”

“There is a voice that speaks for Father Lee, his innocence and his integrity as a priest and a man,” the statement says. “That voice is the voice of the parishioners of St. Edmund’s and St. Joseph’s parish. To this very day the Diocese of Joliet refuses to hear it. Our day will come, the truth will be heard, and someone in Joliet will have to be held accountable.”

Ryan said he could not comment on the situation.

But his attorney, Leonard Sacks, of Kankakee, said after Conlon announced that Ryan again was being put on leave that Ryan “hasn’t been treated fairly.”

Sacks said Ryan took a lie detector test in an attempt to show his innocence, and the results were sent to the diocese.

Ryan “doesn’t deserve any of the press he’s been getting,” Sacks said. “The fact is the guy didn’t do anything. ... He should have been have been given a hearing of some sort with witnesses.”

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