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Top US cardinal let priest accused of sexual abuse lead Mass

Published
In this Nov. 13, 2017, file photo, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, speaks at a news conference during the USCCB's annual fall meeting in Baltimore. Catholic leaders in Texas on Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019, identified 286 priests and others accused of sexually abusing children, a number that represents one of the largest collections of names to be released since an explosive grand jury report last year in Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

HOUSTON (AP) — The cardinal who leads the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops allowed a priest to celebrate Mass the same day his name was among those released on a list of clergy credibly accused of sexual abuse.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo told the Rev. John T. Keller on Wednesday evening that he would be placed on administrative leave the next day, the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston said in a statement Friday.

DiNardo allowed Keller to lead the 9 a.m. Thursday Mass at his parish, the statement said, because Keller "was already scheduled to celebrate" it.

Hours later, Keller was listed among 40 members of the clergy as having been removed from ministry due to "recent allegations currently under investigation." Fourteen dioceses in Texas on Thursday named those credibly accused of abuse, identifying 286 priests and others accused of sexually abusing children.

Michael Norris, a member of the advocacy group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, accused DiNardo Friday of "waiting until the last minute to remove" Keller because he knew the case was getting media attention.

Letting Keller celebrate Mass on Thursday morning was "nonsense," Norris said.

"The idea is when you remove someone from ministry, you remove someone from ministry," Norris said. "You remove the accused immediately."

As head of the Catholic bishops, DiNardo has shaped the U.S. Catholic Church's response to the clergy abuse crisis and met with Pope Francis about the issue.

At the same time, his handling of cases in Houston has come under question. Another local priest, Rev. Manuel La Rosa-Lopez, was charged in September with four counts of indecency with a child. Two people who said La Rosa-Lopez victimized them told The Associated Press that they felt DiNardo didn't do enough to stop La Rosa-Lopez, who was also on the list released Thursday.

DiNardo and the archdiocese said they recently received new allegations against Keller.

But allegations that Keller let a 16-year-old boy drink alcohol and then fondled him have been public since at least 2003, when The Dallas Morning News reported that Keller was ordered to undergo counseling "to ensure he is not at risk for any future inappropriate behavior."

According to the newspaper, Catholic officials in Houston said then that the conduct "did not fit for it to be identified as sexual abuse" and let Keller remain at his parish, Prince of Peace Catholic Community in northwest Houston.

CBS News broadcast an interview with the man in November and another interview Thursday with a second person who accused Keller of touching him inappropriately when he was 8.

The archdiocese declined to comment on Keller's case beyond its statement, in which it said it had reported allegations against Keller to civil authorities and that it encouraged victims to cooperate with any investigation.

Keller was still listed as Prince of Peace's pastor on the parish's website Friday.

In this Nov. 13, 2017, file photo, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, speaks at a news conference during the USCCB's annual fall meeting in Baltimore. Catholic leaders in Texas on Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019, identified 286 priests and others accused of sexually abusing children, a number that represents one of the largest collections of names to be released since an explosive grand jury report last year in Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
In this Nov. 13, 2017, file photo, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, speaks at a news conference during the USCCB's annual fall meeting in Baltimore. Catholic leaders in Texas on Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019, identified 286 priests and others accused of sexually abusing children, a number that represents one of the largest collections of names to be released since an explosive grand jury report last year in Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)