DALLAS (AP) _ A Roman Catholic priest has been ordered removed from his parish for not doing criminal background checks on church workers as required under strict rules adopted after a sex scandal in the Dallas Diocese five years ago.

The Rev. Stephen W. Bierschenk, pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church, received word on Friday of his removal by Bishop Charles V. Grahmann.

``Obviously, the Diocese of Dallas and the two bishops believe they have the right to act with urgency in order to ensure the safety of the children of the parish,'' diocesan spokesman Bronson Havard said Monday.

Bierschenk is the second Dallas priest reassigned this month for not performing the required criminal background checks. Neither the priests nor the unchecked workers have been accused of sexual misconduct.

Bierschenk said Monday he will ``invoke all my rights under the canon law'' to fight his transfer to a small church in McKinney.

In 1997, the diocese was hit with a nearly $120 million verdict in a lawsuit that accused church officials of allowing a priest to molest altar boys and conspiring to cover it up. The verdict was ultimately cut by about three-quarters.

The verdict prompted the diocese to impose guidelines that included fingerprinting and criminal background checks for all workers.

Bierschenk said he was told by his superiors that workers in the church office, a religious education program and the church's youth ministry, as well as parish volunteers, had not been checked. He said he did not know that workers who had little or no contact with children needed to be screened.

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On the Net:

St. Thomas Aquinas Church: http://www.stthomasaquinas.org

Dallas Catholic Diocese: http://www.cathdal.org