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Seminary the eye of new sex scandal storm.

Rector accused of making sexual advances to five students

MILWAUKEE -- One of the largest seminaries in the country specializing in training older men for the Roman Catholic priesthod has hired a lawyer to investigate allegations that the school's former rector made sexual advances to at least five students during the past two years.

Officials of the seminary, Sacred Heart School of Theology, also confirmed in a recent interview with The Milwaukee Journal that two students were dismissed within the past two years for gay-related sexual activity and that a third has been ordered to divest his interest in two gay bars in another state.

The seminary also has dismissed Father Gale Leifeld, the school's academic dean, who was accused of sexual misconduct involving a number of teenage boys while he was rector of the St. Lawrence Seminary High School in Fond du Lac County, according to the Sacred Heart officials. Leifeld currently is in a treatment center.

Late last year, a scandal broke out at the residential seminary when students accused priests and brothers of sexual abuse. Felony charges eventually were filed against two of the clerics accused of sexually abusing students.

The former rector, Father Jerome Clifford, resigned Nov. 1 after being confronted with the allegations of sexual harassment by current and former students. The accunt of Cliffor's resignation was given during the interview with Father John Kasparek, president of Sacred Heart Seminary, and Father Thomas Knoebel, now acting rector.

Sacred Heart has the fifth-largest number of diocesan seminarians, 135, of all seminaries in the country, according to Joseph O'Hara of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate in Washington.

It also has a small population of students studying to be priests for religious orders. Its students come from across the United States but primarily from the Midwest. Most of the students are 30 and older, with an average age of 43.

At least five former and current students have charged that Clifford, the former rector, abused his authority by taking punitive action against students who rebuffed his sexual advances.

"He had a great deal of control over the future of these students," said one current seminarian who asked not to be named. "As rector, he could screw up a man's future. If he tossed a student out of the school, that would end a student's plan for ordination."

Kasparek and Knoebel said Clifford was confronted as soon as the allegations came to their attention in late October. Her resigned almost immediately and spoke to faculty, staff and students.

"Father Clifford shared with the community the struggle that he had personally been going through with alcoholism and the way it was affecting his performance and his behavior," Kasparek said.

Knoebel said no civil or criminal actions had been brought as a result of the complaints. Kasparek said students who filed complaints were offered counseling.

The seminary also is reexamining some cases of students who were asked to leave the school in the past.

Milwaukee attorney Fred A. Erchul was hired to do the investigation and is expected to issue a report within a month.

Of the two students dismissed because of sexual activity, neither was connected to the Clifford allegations. One was arrested for soliciting sex from a male police officer in a public park, and the other had placed a personal ad in a gay publication, giving the seminary phone number as the one at which he could be contacted.

Kasparek said the two incidents were investigaged and verified as soon as they "came to our attention," Both students were immediately expelled, he said.

As for the seminarian with financial interests in the gay bars, Kasparek said he was uncertain whether the student had given up those interests or whether the Sacred Heart Order was still sponsoring the student.

"I think it would be inappropriate for someone in ministry to own any kind of bar," he said.

Knoebel said all students entering the seminary are screened by the Sacred Heart Fathers and Brothers, the order that operates the seminary. Incoming students undergo psychological testing and a review of their past lives, he said.

"I wish I would say we were still living in the '50s, where everyone was totally innocent," Knoebel said. "But we're not. There are always one or two students who will get into the institution. Part of the expectation of sponsors is that we will uncover such behavior, report it and deal with it." Such students, he said, "do not move on to the priesthood."
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Title Annotation:Sacred Heart School of Theology, Hales Corner, Wisconsin
Author:Rohde, Marie
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Apr 9, 1993
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