A Catholic priest who served a parish in Wildwood 10 years ago has been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation of sexual abuse of a minor at his current parish in Colorado, church authorities announced.
Fr. Charles Robert Manning served the in but left in 2001. Since 2007, he has been serving the St. Gabriel the Archangel Catholic Church parish in Colorado Springs, CO—until a week ago when parishioners were told at a Saturday Mass by Rev. Rafael Torres-Rico that allegations of sexual assault on a minor have been brought against Manning.
To read the Manning-related press release from the Diocese of Colorado Springs, click here. The allegation was received Jan. 4.
According to an article published Jan. 26 in The Gazette newspaper in Colorado Springs, members of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) met in front of the Archidiocese of St. Louis headquarters Thursday afternoon to demand answers about Manning. SNAP is a St. Louis-based, worldwide advocacy group established in 1989 for victims of priest-related sexual abuse. Its members proclaim to be a watchdog group for sexual assault crimes brought against religious leaders.
The Gazette article stated Manning has not been arrested or charged.
The St. Gabriel church's website states Manning resigned the pastorate of that parish, effective Jan. 23, and that the Bishop soon will be appointing a new pastor.
After learning about the allegations last week, Patch contacted the St. Alban Roe staff to confirm Manning's assignment at the church. Patch inquiries to the parish's business manager Mike Wuller were returned via email from Elizabeth Westhoff, director of marketing and mission awareness for the Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis.
Westhoff provided the following statement about Manning: "The Archdiocese of St. Louis has been made aware of a complaint of sexual abuse of a minor involving Fr. Robert Manning, a priest of the Archdiocese who was, at the time of the alleged incident, serving as a priest in the Diocese of Colorado Springs. This is the only allegation of abuse involving Fr. Manning during his years of service as a priest, the last five of which have been made in the Diocese of Colorado Springs. While the police are investigating this allegation, Fr. Manning has been placed on administrative leave. He is residing in a monitored environment and will not be permitted to exercise any form of public minstry. The Archdiocese encourages anyone who has been harmed by a member of the clergy to contact Phil Hengen, the director of the Office Child and Youth Protection of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, at 314-792-7704, or the civil authorities."
The Gazette article also stated Manning worked at St. Lawrence the Martyr in Bridgeton, MO, in 2003, before moving to Colorado Springs. He was ordained in 1997, but served in four different parishes over the next 14 years—a fact called "highly unusual" by SNAP outreach director Barb Dorris of St. Louis.
"We asked why there is an unexplained hole in Manning's work history, but received no explanations," Dorris told Patch Wednesday.
She said priests typically serve one parish for at least five years. She also said priests usually stay in their own diocese for the duration of their careers. "So why did Manning disappear to Colorado? Why does he have all these marks on his record? It's not normal."
Westhoff confirmed with Patch in an email Wednesday afternoon that on Jan. 15, 2001, Manning was transferred to his new assignment in the Archdiocese. "He had served St. Alban Roe as associate pastor from 1997 until Jan. 15, 2001," she wrote.
The SNAP director said the organization's members believe it is problematic for the Archdiocese of St. Louis to encourage people to contact Phil Hengen [as indicated in the statement received about Manning], because many or most people do not know Hengen is an ordained deacon. "Bishops are experts for religious and spiritual matters, but anyone who has been hurt by priests should call the police. Law enforcement officers are the ones trained to handle sex crimes," she said.
"Having Bishops try to protect priests, dioceses and victims at the same time is not a good plan."
She cited a notorious St. Louis case from about 10 years ago in which a person confided in Hengen about a priest-related abuse matter, after which was not revealed by Hengen. Dorris said the man ended up killing himself. "Anyone trying to help victims should be there in public view, encouraging everyone to reveal what they knew about such issues."
St. Alban Roe not free of controversy, states SNAP
Dorris said she and other SNAP representatives are concerned about the missing link year that occurred in Manning's history after he left St. Alban Roe in Wildwood.
Manning’s disappearance from records in 2002 after Wildwood is “significant,” Terry McKiernan, president of a priest watchdog nonprofit organization called Bishop Accountability, told The Gazette reporter.
Dorris said priests sometimes take sabbaticals or need sick leaves, but that those type of explanations are all recorded meticulously and made available through an annual book called The Official Catholic Directory, which records when priests were ordained and where they are active. She said no such explanations are available regarding Manning.
She also said the St. Alban Roe parish was plagued with accusations about another former priest, Rev. Carl Peltz, who at one time had a federal suit against him regarding alleged rape of a 12-year-old boy. The suit was settled in 1993 for $25,000 by the Steubenville Diocese, and Peltz has been serving a parish in Michigan, according to Bishop Accountability. She said a third priest split congregants' commitment a few years ago amidst allegations and questions regarding missing finances.
"For me, the Archdiocese has no credibility left, particuarly when they refuse to provide logical explanations," she said.
Dorris said everyone's interests rather should be about the safety of children first. "We're hearing about the same problems with priests and sexual misconduct from worldwide now. You could take out the word St. Louis and substitute it with Poland. It's heart-breaking and children are being hurt. They, the children, need to come first."
She said she had to wonder when these alleged issues started with Manning, given the history.
Norris recommends Wildwoodians speak to their children
Adults generally have a hard time admitting that children can be sexually abused while under their watch, stated Dorris. "Adults want to believe sexual predators are scary people waiting to jump out of bushes, rather than trusted authority figures," she said.
She said she thought it would be simple enough for the St. Louis Bishop to attend St. Alban Roe Masses and say: "This is what happened. This is what we know. We beg you to share anything else that you might have seen or heard with law enforcement so that we can get to the heart of the matter."