Bishop removes Lincoln priest over relationship with 19-year-old man

LINCOLN (AP) — A Lincoln priest has been removed from the ministry after he had an “emotionally inappropriate, nonsexual” relationship with a 19-year-old man, the Catholic Diocese of Lincoln says.

Last year, Bishop James Conley learned of a relationship that the Rev. Charles Townsend, pastor of St. Peter’s Catholic Church, developed with the 19-year-old, Conley said in a statement Saturday.

According to Conley, the relationship involved alcohol.

In response to the report, Conley withdrew Townsend from the diocese and sent him to a religious center in Texas. At the time, priests and parishioners were told Townsend left for health reasons, and he returned several months later. The 19-year-old’s parents were not informed of the report at the time.

While Conley said he regrets a “lack of transparency” about the incident, he said he did not intentionally withhold any information.

“Despite reports to the contrary, I did not oblige anyone to keep silent about this matter,” he said. “I made no effort to ‘cover-up’ any element of this situation, and I tried to address it with integrity. However, I did not encourage transparency. I did not encourage an open discussion about this situation with our priests, with parishioners, or with those involved.

“Even though we were not legally obligated to report the incident, it would have been the prudent thing to do.”

The news about Townsend comes on the heels of a recent report alleging sexual misconduct by a former vocations director in the Lincoln Diocese who retired in 1998 and died in 2008, and allegations that he assaulted college students and seminarians.

A diocesan review board is evaluating information in both cases, and Conley said he is committed to ensuring that the “high standards of chaste behavior” expected of priests and other church officials are fulfilled.

The Rev. Craig Doty will replace Townsend as pastor at St. Peter’s, located in south Lincoln.

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