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Joliet bishop allows priest accused of sexual abuse to return to ministry

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests is demanding that Cardinal Francis George help oust a fellow bishop from a national committee intended to protect youth from sexual abuse by priests.

Joliet Bishop Daniel Conlon heads the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People.

Conlon allowed Father Lee Ryan to return to his ministry this week. The Diocese of Joliet put Ryan on leave in 2010 after a man in Florida alleged that he had been abused by Ryan repeatedly in the 1970s.

But in a statement, Bishop Conlon said a Vatican office made this determination: “Under church law in force at the time of the alleged abuse, Father Ryan was not guilty of a grave delict (serious crime) and therefore could not be removed permanently from ministry.”

The bishop is allowing Ryan to return to ministry, serving homebound parishioners of St. Edmund’s Parish in Watseka, Ill.

SNAP said Thursday that Bishop Conlon doesn’t deserve to head the U.S. bishops’ committee. SNAP spokesperson Barbara Blaine called the diocese “naïve” to think that shut-ins don’t have families or children visiting.

“The bishops have committed themselves to a zero-tolerance policy, and this is a direct violation of that policy,” Blaine said.

The alleged victim said he was “blindsided” by the bishop's actions: "Why would you risk putting a known predator ... why would they do that?" he asked.

He said the Diocese of Joliet won’t clearly explain to him why they made the decision to return Ryan to ministry.

“I asked them, 'What if he touches another young person?.' They said, ‘Well then it’s on our hands," he said. "I just felt like, well I guess when he touched me, they don’t consider it on their hands.”

A statement from the diocese said Father Ryan may ask to be reassigned to different duties.

The diocese and the Conference of Catholic Bishops did not return calls for comment.

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