When a priest is accused, the parish suffers too

When a priest is accused of sexually abusing a minor, the parish community inevitably becomes a victim.

The natural instinct of parishioners is to defend their spiritual guide,  and rally for his return.

No such outcome will occur at St. Leo Catholic Church in the Little Italy section of Baltimore, since it was announced this week that the pastor who was removed from his post more than a year ago because of a sexual abuse accusation reportedly has admitted to the offense.

The story about Pallottine Father Michael Salerno is on the Web site of The Catholic Review, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, as well as one of the local daily newspapers, The Sun.

I covered this story when I was a reporter at the Review, and remember the gasps from parishioners when they were told about the accusation and Father Mike’s removal. They voiced their anger about the person who made the accusation and pleaded to have their beloved pastor returned to service.

In the weeks and months that followed, parishioners who lived in the Little Italy neighborhood posted signs in their windows in support of Father Mike, and several even held a rally to protest his removal.

Not only was Father Mike a popular pastor, he was a successful one too, taking the reins of a struggling city parish in 1997 with only about 100 families and grew it to more than 800 families by 2007.

Those parishioners were suffering after Father Mike was removed, just as I’m sure they are suffering now with this latest announcement.