The Catholic Diocese of Fairbanks is scrambling to cover its sprawling Interior territory in the absence of the pastor of its largest parish, who is currently under investigation following allegations of online misconduct.
Rev. Clint Landry was placed on administrative leave and suspended from his ministerial duties on May 23, according to a release issued by the diocese, following "revelations of Internet computer misconduct." Landry served as the parish priest for Fairbanks' largest Catholic congregation, Sacred Heart Cathedral.
Fairbanks diocese officials said they found information on Landry's church computer that led them to call the Alaska State Troopers. The troopers, in turn, called in the FBI, and asked the agency to investigate Landry's Internet activities. The Catholic Diocese of Fairbanks would not elaborate on the nature of the allegations. Landry is currently on administrative leave and no charges have been filed.
"We acted upon (the information of alleged misconduct) immediately. There was no hesitation on anyone's part to report it," said Ronnie Rosenberg, the Fairbanks diocese's director of human resources and legal coordinator.
The Roman Catholic Church in Alaska is still trying to recover from decades of sexual and physical abuse inflicted by ordained religious and laypeople throughout mostly rural regions of the state. In 2010, the Fairbanks diocese agreed to pay $9.8 million to more than 300 victims of abuse dating back to the 1960s. The lawsuits and the ensuing legal fees and judgments forced the diocese into bankruptcy.
Landry is the second Fairbanks-based priest to be placed on administrative leave this year.
In late March, another priest, Rev. Sean P. Thomson, 52, was arrested by Alaska State Troopers on the Parks Highway, near Denali National Park. Troopers said Thomson was speeding and driving erratically and weaving on the roadway when he was pulled over. Troopers said Thomson had a blood alcohol content of more than three times the legal limit and was in possession of marijuana and a handgun at the time of his arrest. Thomson is free on bail, awaiting trial on drug, DUI and weapons charges. Like Landry, he remains a priest, but is not allowed to perform ministerial duties, including saying mass for parishioners and administering sacraments.
But Rosenberg said she doesn't believe the two latest cases of priest misconduct signify a larger problem and maintains that morale among church officials and employees has not been affected by the recent troubles.
"Neither of these two incidents were endemic to anything the church did or was doing," Rosenberg said. "They were individual-type things."
For now, the church has divided Thomson and Landry's duties among other Interior priests, according to Rosenberg. Their futures will likely be determined by the outcome of the legal cases and subsequent church investigations.
"Depending on the outcome, we go from there in terms of their suitability for ministry," Rosenberg said.
Contact Sean Doogan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By SEAN DOOGAN