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Last updated: Thu. Jan. 16, 2014 - 04:59 am EDT

Priest with longtime local ties removed from ministry after sex abuse claim

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A priest with a long history in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend parishes and schools has resigned and was removed from ministry after a “credible” allegation of sexual abuse of a minor 44 years ago, diocesan officials said Wednesday.

The Rev. James F. Seculoff, 77, most recently was pastor of St. Patrick Catholic Church in Walkerton – in St. Joseph County, southwest of South Bend – where he had served for about six months, said Sean McBride, diocese spokesman.

Previously, Seculoff, a Fort Wayne native, was pastor at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in New Haven for several years, McBride said.

About the time of the alleged abuse, Seculoff was elevated from principal at the former Huntington Catholic High School to superintendent of diocesan schools. He held that post until 1978.

Before being named principal, he taught at Bishop Dwenger High School in Fort Wayne and St. Joseph High School in South Bend.

McBride said a letter from the Rev. Kevin C. Rhoades, diocesan bishop, was read last weekend at Masses at St. Patrick.

In the letter, the bishop expressed “deep sadness” about the situation. Seculoff “voluntarily resigned” and “has officially retired,” the bishop wrote.

As required by church law, the Vatican Congregation of Doctrine of the Faith was notified of the case, Rhoades wrote.

“The norms of the Church also require that I withdraw Father Seculoff from exercising the sacred ministry and exercising the role of pastor,” he wrote.

According to the letter, a preliminary investigation of the allegation revealed “sufficient evidence that sexual abuse of a minor did occur,” and the Diocesan Review Board reviewed that evidence and advised the bishop the allegation was “credible.”

McBride said the alleged abuse happened “within diocesan boundaries.” He said he could not be more specific.

“We are specifically trying to avoid this question because of the implicit request from the alleged victim to safeguard their identity,” McBride said. That person’s gender was not disclosed.

McBride said the diocese notified the Indiana Department of Child Services on Jan. 8. No civil suit has been filed, he said.

Rhoades gave instructions to priests in other parishes where Seculoff had served and plans to visit St. Patrick in the next month, McBride said.

The Rev. Jan Klimczyk, formerly at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne, began serving as the parish’s administrator Wednesday.

McBride said Seculoff, ordained a priest in 1962, was reassigned to the Walkerton parish upon his request. Seculoff wanted “to serve in a semi-retired capacity” because running a school and parish of the size of St. John the Baptist “was very taxing,” McBride said.

St. John the Baptist in New Haven has more than 1,200 families, according to the diocese’s 2013 directory.

Before 1978, Seculoff served at St. Vincent de Paul parish and the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne, Ss. Peter & Paul parish in Huntington, St. John Bosco parish in Churubusco, Immaculate Conception parish in Ege and St. Monica parish in Mishawaka.

More recent assignment information was unavailable Wednesday. A phone number for Seculoff could not be found.

A graduate of Fort Wayne Central Catholic High School, Seculoff received a bachelor’s degree from Meinrad College, a master’s from the former Saint Francis College and a doctorate in education from Ball State University.

Anyone who has been a victim of sexual abuse by a priest or someone in another religious post within the diocese may contact Victim Assistance Coordinator Mary Glowaski at 399-1458 or Vicar General Monsignor Robert Schulte at 422-4611.

rsalter@jg.net


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