Wednesday, May 01, 2002

Priest told to leave parish

By Dan Horn,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A week after he was forced out of one parish, Father Thomas Hopp was asked to leave another Tuesday.

        The Archdiocese of Cincinnati ordered the move when it became clear that public anger over child abuse allegations had followed Father Hopp from his former church near Dayton, Ohio, to his temporary home in Reading.

        Church officials would not say where Father Hopp was moved, only that he “is not a threat to anybody” at the new location.

Father Michael Leshney
Father Michael Leshney
        “Every precaution has been taken,” said Father Michael Leshney, pastor at SS. Peter & Paul parish in Reading, where Father Hopp had stayed for several days. “We need to put people's fears and concerns at ease.”

        But concern has been growing among parishioners in both Dayton and Reading since last week, when Father Hopp was placed on administrative leave because of a child abuse accusation.

        Father Hopp's accuser, a man now in his 30s, told church officials in a letter several weeks ago that he had been abused in 1980.

        Church officials have since acknowledged that they received a second, unconfirmed, allegation five years ago. That allegation was made while Father Hopp served as pastor at Queen of Martyrs north of Dayton, Ohio.

        The revelations stunned parishioners in Dayton who had known Father Hopp for years, and infuriated those in Reading who knew only that the church had moved the priest to their neighborhood.

        “The church hasn't figured out the problem yet,” said Bill Wabler, a Beavercreek resident and member of Queen of Martyrs parish. “They don't tell the truth and have been hiding it for years.”

[photo] Students at SS. Peter & Paul School walk past the church in Reading.
(Glenn Hartong photos)
| ZOOM |
        Father William H. Schwartz, who replaced Father Hopp as pastor in Dayton, said the priest's resignation hit many like a death in the family.

        “They are angry, they are upset,” Father Schwartz said. “They are feeling pretty much every emotion you can imagine.”

        Parishioners in Reading experienced many of those same emotions when they learned this weekend that the new priest at their parish was an accused child molester.

        Church officials said the move to SS. Peter & Paul was temporary, and that Father Hopp would not be allowed to serve in a priestly role. But during his first weekend at the church, Father Hopp presided over Mass twice.

        At the first service, he told the congregation he was assigned to the church “for a rest.” When parishioners learned of the allegations, dozens called Father Leshney to complain.

        One parishioner, in a voice mail message, said: “We're a family, and families don't keep secrets.”

        Others were more worried about the church's proximity to the grade school and playground across the street.

        “The fact that the archdiocese placed him in that position shows an incredible lack of judgment on their part,” said Dan Sweeney, a parishioner and father of two.

        Father Leshney said he did not know Father Hopp was barred from saying Mass and promised it would not happen again.

        But after hearing more objections from his parishioners Tuesday, he decided it would be best if Father Hopp left the parish altogether.

        Church officials would not say where Father Hopp is now.

        But they said he is not around children and is not acting in a priestly role.

        Archdiocese spokesman Dan Andriacco said the church acted quickly in Father Hopp's case and removed him from his parish as soon as it substantiated the abuse claim from 1980.

        The other allegation, Mr. Andriacco said, was reported by a third party who claimed Father Hopp had behaved strangely around a teen-age boy.

        But when the boy's parents were notified, Mr. Andriacco said, they told church officials their son knew nothing about the allegation.

        Those who know Father Hopp said they had no hint of trouble until the allegations surfaced in the media.

        “We have seen nothing that would indicate any of those tendencies,” said Margaret Locke, a longtime parishioner at Queen of Martyrs.

        Father Dennis Jaspers, who was ordained with Father Hopp in 1966, said the news hit him “like a ton of bricks.”

        He described Father Hopp as “gregarious” and said he seemed to fit in no matter what his job, from high school teacher to pastor.

        Church officials say it's unclear what will happen next to Father Hopp. Authorities are investigating the abuse allegation to determine if criminal charges can be filed after so many years.

        Father Hopp could be permanently barred from priestly roles, or he could accept a retirement or resignation from the priesthood.

        No matter what the church does, Mr. Andriacco said, Father Hopp will never serve as a pastor or in a public ministry again.

       Jennifer Edwards contributed to this report.


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