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Father James Melnick suspended from ministry

Published: September 28, 2014   

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily in Russellville, Dardanelle and Danville Sept. 27-28.

In the Gospel for Monday of this week Jesus said: "There is nothing hidden that will not be known and come to light. Take care then how you hear. To anyone who has, more will be given, and from one who has not, even what he seems to have will be taken away." (Luke 8:17-18)

The most difficult thing I ever have to do as bishop is come to a parish to inform the parishioners that I have received credible allegations of misconduct against their priest so serious as to require his removal from ministry.

Last weekend we received credible allegations of sexual misconduct against Father Melnick and were able to act quickly enough to prevent him from celebrating his last Mass in Danville last Sunday. Later that day we were able to interview some of his victims and verify multiple acts of sexual misconduct with multiple adult victims during the period of less than a year. Since there were multiple victims, we seem to be dealing with predatory behavior, not romance. Later Father Melnick admitted that this is true. So please do not blame his victims. They are victims. And moreover, they reported violations of the sacrament of reconciliation so serious as to require his permanent removal from ministry: absolution of persons with whom he had previously committed sins against the sixth commandment -- and thus incurring grave canonical penalties that can only be lifted by the Holy See.

I know that his misconduct has harmed some of you directly and if you have been a victim of his misdeeds or know someone who has been harmed by him here or elsewhere, I ask that you contact the diocese to report the incident for your own good and for the good of the Church. I would also like to offer you the assistance of the Church in securing help if you could benefit from speaking with a psychologist or counselor to deal with what you have experienced. I sincerely regret the harm you have suffered and in the name of the Church I apologize to you for what Father Melnick has done. Given what was shared with you today and what Father Melnick has admitted to doing, the Church would never allow a priest in situation like this to ever to function as a priest again. Please pray for him. He needs your prayers, probably more than any of us even realizes. And please pray especially for his victims, for their healing and for their inner peace.

Also, don't let this shake your faith. Remember, your faith is not in any priest, or for that matter in any bishop or pope. It is in Jesus and in him alone. Also know that the sacraments you have received from Father Melnick remain valid, so despite his misdeeds, all your baptisms, weddings and so on are valid, so don't worry about that.

I am shocked by all of this, as I am sure you are too -- and especially those of you who were unaware of Father Melnick's immoral and sacrilegious activities. For that reason, I am sending you one of the finest young priests in our diocese to replace him: Father Mauricio Carrasco. He will be just exactly the right person you need to lead you through this difficult time. The plan is for him to live in Russellville with Father Chuma and to begin service here next weekend.

Also please pray for the Church. It is quite understandable that this might get a great deal of negative attention in the media because, after all, this is a very bad situation -- the worst I have ever faced and probably the worst your parish has ever faced too. But please know that I am with you and we will get through this together. As for Father Melnick, while today's Responsorial Psalm rejoices that God is a merciful God, our First Reading reminds us that even so, evil deeds lead to very burdensome consequences -- such as, in the case of Father Melnick, removal from ministry. But that doesn't change the fact that we still pray for the perpetrator's ultimate salvation. So keep him in your prayers. And above all, pray for his victims -- they are our first priority and our first concern. And again, if you or someone you know has been a victim of misconduct by Father Melnick or any other priest or representative of the Church, I ask that you contact the diocese to report the incident for your own good and for the good of the Church.

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