Saturday, July 20, 2002

Columbus priest retires, won't minister publicly

Accusations of improper conduct toward minors linger

By The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS, Ohio - A Roman Catholic priest who was a hospital chaplain has retired and agreed not to minister publicly because of allegations that he acted improperly toward minors.

        The Rev. Michael Ellifritz, who lived at St. Mary Magdalene Church since last summer and was a chaplain at Riverside Methodist Hospitals for 10 years, has retired for health reasons, said Tom Berg, a spokesman for Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus.

        Mr. Berg would not describe Father Ellifritz's health troubles, but he recently told parishioners that he has heart problems, The Columbus Dispatch reported Friday.

        Mr. Berg also said the allegations against Father Ellifritz are about 20 years old. They will be investigated by a diocesan board of review being established under mandates adopted last month by U.S. Catholic bishops to deal with priestly sexual misconduct.

        He would not say where Father Ellifritz was serving at the time of the allegations, nor whether the alleged misconduct was sexual.

        “It's still pending before the review board, so I can't go into the details,” Mr. Berg said.

        He said Father Ellifritz is no longer living at St. Mary Magdalene.

        Mr. Berg said the diocese has known of the allegations for some time. He also said Father Ellifritz has been under supervision for years, but would not say how long.

        In most cases, a priest is placed under supervision because of misconduct. Usually, he is supervised by the bishop or the pastor of the parish where he is living, or both.

        Columbus Bishop James Griffin was out of town Thursday and not available for comment.

        Mr. Berg said information about the Ellifritz case has been given to prosecutors in Franklin and Fairfield counties.

        Father Ellifritz, 60, was ordained in 1967. He served at parishes in Circleville, Columbus, Hilliard, Lancaster, Wellston, Danville, Logan and Powell.

        Mr. Berg said he did not know how soon the diocesan review board would be operating. It must have at least five members, including a majority of lay people not employed by the diocese.

        In addition to the Father Ellifritz allegations, the board will be looking at the case of Monsignor Joseph Fete, who was removed as pastor of a Columbus parish in April because he sexually abused a teenage boy from 1976 to 1979.

        Msgr. Fete has been appointed director of ecumenical affairs for the diocese but will not start the job until his case is resolved.


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