One of the Valley’s most prominent priests, the Rev. John D. “Jack” Spaulding, pastor of St. Timothy’s Catholic Community in Mesa, was placed on administrative leave Friday after a Diocesan Review Board Thursday night determined there was a “credible” allegation of his involvement in sexual misconduct with a minor. It allegedly took place more than 25 years ago when he was pastor at St. Maria Goretti Catholic Parish in Scottsdale.
A diocese spokeswoman said police were notified of the allegation, but the church has no knowledge of a criminal investigation being under way.
The diocese released a statement Friday afternoon that Spaulding, 67, had resigned as pastor on Monday, and that Bishop Thomas Olmsted had accepted it and was consulting with others in the diocese to name a new priest for St. Timothy, one of the largest parishes in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix.
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery released a statement Saturday morning saying his office has received no allegations or investigative report from law enforcement regarding Spaulding, nor is it participating in any criminal investigation arising from his suspension.
The diocese has hired a former FBI agent to conduct an independent investigation into the allegation. “The agent collected various documents and interviewed several witnesses, including Father Spaulding,” the statement said. “Father Spaulding denies the allegation and is fully cooperating with the investigation.”
Rev. Daniel McBride, pastor of St. Mary parish in Chandler, will serve as temporary administrator of the parish, the diocese spokeswoman said.
Olmsted said the case will be referred to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome for further proceedings. Spaulding’s resignation is effective July 4 and “came after a separate investigation by the diocese into concerns that the parish had failed to follow certain financial and human resources policies and procedures,” the diocesan statement said. It said the diocese wants to “assure the faithful of St. Timothy that there was no finding of embezzlement or other such financial crime or impropriety” on the part of Spaulding or parish staff. “Father’s Spaulding’s resignation on Monday from his position as pastor was based upon his recognition that a change of leadership was necessary at the parish,” the two-page statement said.
Olmsted said he took his action on the sexual misconduct allegation in compliance with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People adopted by national bishops several years ago.
“I’m shocked, shocked. I can’t believe it,” said Yvonne Gefroh, a member for 20 years at St. Timothy’s, 1730 E. Guadalupe Road. “How come they waited so long?”
Spaulding, who carries a slight limp from polio as an infant, has been a champion of the disabled. Soon after his ordination, he learned sign language to use it to say Mass. In 1974, he started the Office of the Disabled for the Diocese of Phoenix. Spaulding assisted the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops to open a national office for the disabled in Washington, D.C.
For four years, Spaulding hosted his own show on the Eternal Word Television Network, the national Catholic cable channel. He is author of “Holy Boldness: The Spirituality of Diocesan Priest,” (Queenship, 2002). A native of Indiana, he came with his family to the Valley at the age of 8, attended Regina Cleri seminary in Tucson for high school and finished his training for the priesthood at St. John Seminary at Camarillo, Calif. He was ordained in 1971.
His intense devotion to the Virgin Mary led Spaulding to start a Marian prayer group in every parish he has served. Annually, he has led pilgrimages to Rome and Assisi, Italy, and Medjugorje, Bosnia and Herzegovina, where 30 years ago six children reported being visited by Mary in a field and receiving messages from her. He had just returned last week from this year’s pilgrimage.
When President Barack Obama spoke at Dobson High School in February 2009, Spaulding led a prayer vigil across the street at St. Timothy’s with about 200 Catholics. They prayed for the president to not sign any federal legislation removing restrictions on abortion.
Between 1989 and 1996, nine young people of St. Maria Goretti said they were hearing voices and getting messages, or “locutions,” from Mary. Spaulding, who said he also began to get messages, instructed them to record their messages, which were compiled and examined by a diocesan commission. Its report in 1995 said the locutions were “explainable in the range of ordinary human experiences” and were not supernatural.
The allegations against Spaulding are the latest in what has been a series of felony and misdemeanor misconduct cases brought against some 20 past or present priests working in the diocese in the past decade, including civil lawsuits. It marks the second consecutive pastor of St. Timothy’s to face misconduct charges. After being appointed St. Timothy’s pastor in 2005, Spaulding stepped into a parish that had high loyalty to its previous pastor, the then-Monsignor Dale Fushek, the 20-year leader of the parish, who was put on administrative leave in late 2004 and resigned in June 2005 over accusations of sexual misconduct with minors.
After 5 1/2 years of court actions and plea bargaining, Fushek entered a guilty plea in April 2010 to a single count of misdemeanor sexual assault, which was said to have been related to a pick-up basketball game.
At the time of his arrest, Olmsted had placed Fushek on paid leave pending disposition of the charges. From the start of the legal action, parishioners supported the charismatic Fushek in large numbers, including helping with his court costs. In the fall of 2007, Fushek and a former priest at St. Timothy’s, Mark Dippre, launched a nondenominational fellowship called the Praise and Worship Center, expressly declaring it was not Catholic and not meant to serve as a replacement of the Catholic Mass and its Eucharist. The fellowship had immediate strong weekly attendance, in rented space first in Mesa and now in Chandler. It draws 500 to 600 people on Sundays, said Stan Nicpon of Tempe, who left St. Timothy’s shortly after Fushek was relieved of duties. He said he and his wife, Nan, split time between the Praise and Worship Center and St. Andrew the Apostle Catholic Church in Chandler.
Nicpon said about three-fourths of the Praise and Worship Center attendance can be traced back to St. Timothy’s membership. Olmsted had sternly told St. Timothy’s parishioners and other Catholics to remain in their own parishes and to refrain from attending the Praise and Worship Center to “keep the Holy Mass, the ultimate form of praise and worship.” Fushek and Dippre were subsequently excommunicated in December 2008 for their “schism” and “direct defiance of Bishop Olmsted’s request to discontinue engaging in public ministry.”
Ten years ago, St. Timothy’s had almost 6,000 families registered, with about 8,000 attending weekend Masses and plate collections of $91,000. Current statistics were not available.
“This is a very difficult time for all those involved as you can imagine,” the Rev. David Sanfilippo, vicar of priests, said in a statement to priests. “Please keep Father Spaulding, St. Timothy Parish and the person who brought forward the accusation in your prayers.”
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