SEATTLE - The Rev. John Cornelius hasn't been convicted of a crime, but he must meet several times each month with a Washington state parole officer - one hired by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle.
The priest, accused of molestation by at least a dozen men and currently on administrative leave, has been observed by the officer since 1997 in his limited contacts with parishioners.
Archdiocese officials defend the monitoring - the only such arrangement publicly disclosed in the United States - as a way to ensure children's safety while retaining a valued servant. But even some of the most vocal critics in the Catholic church's current sex-abuse crisis say putting a priest "on parole" sets an unsettling precedent.
"Protecting the children has got to be number one, but you also want to maintain the dignity of the people involved," said Svea Fraser of Voice of the Faithful, a lay group pressuring the Boston Archdiocese to change the way it handles abuse allegations.
The archdiocese hired George Uhlman, a parole officer who routinely supervises sex offenders, to monitor Cornelius, 56, after an Idaho man accused the priest in 1996 of abusing him as an adolescent in Boise in the early 1970s.
Church and police investigations were inconclusive. Cornelius, a former city police chaplain and the adoptive father of 13 children, was reassigned from his inner-city Seattle ministry. He was barred from contact with children and required to meet regularly with Uhlman and a sex-abuse counselor.
The parole officer arrangement appears to be unique, said Mike Hurley, with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C.
"I'm sure it will not miss the attention of the bishops" when they gather for a meeting next month in Dallas, he said.
Seattle archdiocese spokesman Bill Gallant defended the arrangement, begun under a previous archbishop and continued by Archbishop Alexander Brunett, noting that a committee of lay experts advised hiring a monitor.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times