Priest says faith helped him get through abuse allegations - Cleveland 19 News Cleveland, OH

Priest says faith helped him get through abuse allegations

SANDUSKY, Ohio (AP) - A Roman Catholic priest allowed to return to the church he has led since 1991 after being accused of molesting a child says his faith and support from his parish helped him retain hope that he would resume his work.

Rev. Philip Feltman was placed on administrative leave in January from St. Mary's after allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced. Feltman stayed involved in the parish, but said that it was difficult to not be leading the congregation.

"There were funerals of friends, there were weddings of friends, baptisms. I could not participate (as a priest)," he said. "It was important that I show up, but it was different. I became acutely aware of the loss."

Feltman resumed his role almost two weeks ago after a Vatican council found that there wasn't enough evidence to support the claims.

A woman said Feltman abused her 31 years ago, when she was 9, while he was at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Toledo. The Toledo diocese, which covers 19 counties in northwest Ohio, has removed four other priests from ministry and placed three on leave.

The allegation was forwarded to the Vatican after the woman, whose name was withheld by the diocese, declined to appear before the local church inquiry board.

Feltman, known as Father Phil, said he did have moments where he doubted whether he would be allowed back behind the pulpit.

"Excessive worry about the outcome filled my mind night and day until I finally turned it over to (God) and I knew I had no control," he said.

Feltman was ordained in 1966 and also has worked in Fostoria, Tiffin, Vermilion and Kelley's Island. He has led St. Mary's since 1991.

Feltman said that he believes his case was handled fairly and that the church has improved its handling of sexual abuse claims and has become more open about the process.

"The process was not hidden," he said. "It was very visible. Everyone knew. The process was before the people and that is a huge and great change for the better."

Feltman said that he has made some changes in how he preaches and interacts with his congregation. Just before he was reinstated, he attended a retreat during which a retired college professor explained an average day: As soon as he tried to get some work done, his students would interrupt, wanting to talk with him.

"He said, 'I learned it was the interruptions that were really my life's work,'" Feltman said.

Feltman said that he uses that lesson to be more patient while handling problems.

"I find myself listening better, having less to say, wanting to listen better, knowing I don't have the answers. (God) does," he said.

And Feltman said that even though he was worried about the outcome of the investigation, he never gave up hope.

"I would still have to go on living," he said. "I'd still have to go on with my relationship with God.

"When you're at the end of your rope, that's where God is."

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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