Letter from Bishop Conley
August 4, 2018
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
I address you with a heavy heart today. In the past week, several stories were spread on the internet regarding our diocesan culture and the conduct of priests within our diocese.
These stories have caused a great amount of distress for many of you, for many of our priests, and for me as well. Many of you have questions about the veracity of these stories, and many of you are concerned that you have been lied to.
Satan, the father of lies, is also the father of doubt and division. My fear is that these reports will become a wedge of division within our diocese. As your bishop -- called to be your spiritual father -- I want to speak to you clearly. I pray that the truth can break through fear, division, and distress, so that we might be healed in Christ -- in our hearts, our parishes, and our diocese. Jesus, who is the way, the truth and the life, will set us free.
One report made this week concerns the Diocese of Lincoln’s former vocations director, Msgr. Leonard Kalin, who retired in 1998 and died in 2008. While Msgr. Kalin was loved by many, others report difficult experiences with him. Allegations were made regarding his moral conduct which included excessive smoking, drinking and gambling. The most disturbing, however, were in regard to emotional and physical boundary violations directed toward college students and seminarians. The diocese received one report of a physical boundary violation by Msgr. Kalin, in 1998. We are continuing to gather information about these recent allegations. I encourage anyone with information about these or similar allegations to contact Seth Odgaard, our Diocesan Safe Environment Coordinator. Early this week I will convene our diocesan review board -- an independent group of lay experts in the fields of law enforcement investigation and psychology who answer directly to me, which gives this board its unique independence. This board will examine this situation. Please be assured, I will take all necessary steps to hold accountable anyone responsible for placing people in unsafe situations within the Church.
The second story concerned Fr. Charles Townsend, pastor of St. Peter parish in Lincoln. Last year I received a report that Fr. Townsend had developed an emotionally inappropriate, non-sexual relationship with a 19-year-old male which involved alcohol. After receiving the report, I immediately withdrew Fr. Townsend from ministry, and sent him to the Shalom Center in Houston for treatment. My failure at the time was the lack of transparency with the people of God about this incident. Despite reports to the contrary, I did not oblige anyone to keep silent about this matter. Our priests and the parishioners of St. Peter’s were told that he went away for health reasons. I made no effort to “cover-up” any element of this situation, and I tried to address it with integrity. However, I did not encourage transparency. I did not encourage an open discussion about this situation with our priests, with parishioners, or with those involved. Even though we were not legally obligated to report the incident, it would have been the prudent thing to do. Because the young man had reached the age of majority, we did not tell his parents about the incident. I deeply regret this lack of transparency and breach of trust.
These recent reports have led me to reflect on the ways we have handled the moral failings of our priests. I am working to rectify my failures to ensure that we consult appropriately and act with transparency in any matter involving a boundary violation. As your bishop, I have asked the Lord for wisdom, holiness, courage, and good judgment. I have tried to do my best to lead with integrity. But, like everyone, there is always more for me to learn, and ways to grow, and I ask for your prayers.
Fr. Townsend has been removed from ministry, so that I might consult with our diocesan review board about his situation. This past week we reported this incident to the civil authorities. I also met with the man and with his parents and expressed my regrets for failing to inform them. I asked for and received their forgiveness.
As of Thursday, August 9th, I am appointing Fr. Craig Doty pastor of St. Peter parish in Lincoln. Fr. Doty has been a key priest in our diocese for bringing about renewal and healing both in our presbyterate and for the lay faithful. I have asked him to take this assignment as a sign of my own desire for healing. As you hear this I am preaching directly to the people of St. Peter parish in Lincoln at all the Sunday Masses.
The diocesan review board will review these two cases and any others that are deemed appropriate for their review. I assure you that a full inquest will now be undertaken.
During the past week, I have experienced profound sadness for anyone impacted by these situations and I have been weighed down with concern about the potential betrayal of the good people of this diocese. Most deeply, I am reminded of our need for continual conversion. Christ promises that the truth will set us free. I ask for your forgiveness. Please pray for me, as I work to ensure that our diocese is led with integrity, transparency, and humility. Let us pray for each other.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
James D. Conley
The Most Reverend James D. Conley
Bishop of Lincoln