Priest placed on leave following abuse allegation

Friday, December 28, 2018 - Updated: 4:39 pm

Bishop David Zubik has placed Father James Downs on administrative leave following an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor that the diocese received Dec. 20.

Father Downs, 74, who most recently served as pastor of Christ the King Parish in Bessemer/Hillsville and St. James the Apostle Parish, Pulaski, until his retirement in July 2018, is accused of sexual abuse of a minor in the early 1990s. He has denied the allegation, which has been reported to law enforcement. No prior victim has ever come forward against Father Downs.

The allegation dates to a time when Father Downs served as the chaplain to the former Youth Development Center in New Castle. In addition to notifying the Lawrence County district attorney, the State Bureau for Juvenile Justice Services has been advised of the allegation.

Priests on administrative leave may not engage in public ministry, dress as priests or otherwise present themselves as priests in good standing. If the allegation is deemed unsubstantiated following an investigation, his faculties for ministry will be restored.

Bishop Zubik sent letters to be shared Dec. 22-23 at all parishes where Father Downs has served. The letter explained that the diocese will follow its policies and those of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

Removing a priest from ministry while an investigation takes place “does not imply guilt. It is intended to safeguard the course of justice while preserving the rights of everyone involved, including both the person who made the allegation and the person against whom an allegation has been made,” Bishop Zubik wrote.

“If a determination is made that (he) did what he is accused of, those restrictions will become permanent. If it is determined that the allegation is unfounded, all that is possible will be done to restore (his) reputation and return him to ministry,” he wrote.

Bishop Zubik urged anyone who has been harmed by someone representing the church to contact the diocesan assistance coordinator at 1-888-808-1235 or the state abuse hotline at 1-800-932-0313.

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