By Michael O’Connor / World-Herald staff writer
Prosecutors said Friday it was unlikely they would charge two local priests found guilty by the Archdiocese of Omaha of sexually abusing minors because the alleged abuse happened too long ago.
The archdiocese announced Friday morning that it has dismissed the Rev. Alfred J. Salanitro, 54, and sentenced the Rev. Franklin A. Dvorak, 69, to a life of prayer and penance. Archbishop George Lucas determined the verdicts after the archdiocese completed investigations into the two priests.
Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said Friday that his office looked into the Salanitro cases with help from the Omaha Police Department and determined that the statute of limitations had run out on the cases.
In December 2011, a Carter Lake man reported he was sexually abused by Salanitro from 1991 to 1994, beginning when he was 11 years old. Salanitro was associate pastor of Holy Cross Parish at the time.
The archdiocese’s investigation into Salanitro uncovered two more adult males who said they were also sexually abused by the priest when they were teenagers in the early-to-mid 1990s.
Joe Smith, Madison County Attorney, likewise said it was “extremely unlikely” the case involving Dvorak could be prosecuted because of the statute of limitations. His jurisdiction includes Norfolk, Neb., where Dvorak once served.
In April 2012, Dvorak was accused of sexually abusing a female student from 1970 to 1972 when he was a priest in Norfolk.
Nebraska’s statute of limitations on several sex crimes against minors, such as debauching a child, is either seven years after the crime was committed or seven years after the victim turns 16, whichever is later, according to the website Criminal Defense Lawyer.
A leader of a national victim advocacy group said the archdiocese should take more steps to uncover other potential victims of two priests.
“If you were hurt, come forward and get help,” said David Clohessy, executive director of Chicago-based SNAP, a support and advocacy group for clergy abuse victims.
He said priest predators typically have multiple victims.
Deacon Tim McNeil, spokesman for the archdiocese, said other potential victims have already been urged to come forward.
The archbishop’s verdict means Salanitro has now been returned to the lay state and is prohibited from all priestly functions and ministries. He can never again serve as a priest anywhere in the Roman Catholic Church.
Dvorak is also prohibited from publicly exercising priestly ministry in the church. He is not permitted to celebrate Mass publicly or to administer the Church’s sacraments, a release from the archdiocese said. The archdiocese has also instructed him not to wear clerical attire or to present himself publicly as a priest. He is expected to dedicate his life to praying for victims and repenting of his past offenses.
Dvorak was allowed to retain his clerical status because he is scheduled to retire in February, at the priest retirement age of 70, and has no priestly assignment to return to, McNeil said.
During the investigation, both Salanitro and Dvorak were placed on administrative leave.
Clohessy said Lucas should go to every church at which the two priests served and ask for other potential victims to come forward and get help.
“Lucas has a moral and civic duty,” Clohessy said.
The archdiocese has contacted all the parishes served by the two priests, inviting other potential victims to come forward, McNeil said.
McNeil said Lucas also will meet next week with parishioners at the two churches the priests were serving at the time the allegations surfaced – St. Bernadette in Bellevue, where Salanitro was serving, and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, where Dvorak was pastor.
Lucas will explain his decision and answer any questions at the meetings, McNeil said.
Mary Ruth Stegman, a member of the Catholic dissident group Call to Action Nebraska, said the church has taken many steps to address sexual abuse by priests.
“Any Catholic will say the church has made an effort to correct the problem. How much it’s corrected I don’t know,” she said.
She added that it’s “only a few (priests) that have cast this horrible scandal on the church.”
After reporting the allegations to law enforcement officials, the archdiocese carried out an initial investigation on the two priests.
That investigation involved Lucas and the Archdiocesan Review Board. It’s an 11-member volunteer board of childcare experts, law enforcement officials, attorneys, clergy and mental health professionals that advises the archbishop on the protection of young people.
The board, after concluding the evidence met the church’s minimum standard for a credible allegation, referred the cases to the Vatican for review. The Vatican sent the cases back to Lucas for a final decision.
Lucas’ verdicts were based on a disciplinary process that included two canon lawyers from outside the archdiocese.
That process was initiated by the Vatican three years ago in response to the national priest abuse scandal that erupted more than a decade ago.
One goal of the new disciplinary process is to reach quicker verdicts, McNeil said. Church trials were mainly used in the past, often taking years to complete.