Catholic priest accused of ‘boundary violations’ resigns from West Point parish; he denies allegations

Catholic priest accused of ‘boundary violations’ resigns from West Point parish; he denies allegations
Andy Syring

A Catholic priest in West Point, Nebraska, accused of “significant boundary violations with young adults and minors” has resigned from his assignment, an Omaha Archdiocese official said Saturday.

The Rev. Andy Syring, a 41-year-old priest who had been assigned to St. Mary Catholic Church in West Point, resigned Tuesday.

Syring has denied the allegations, which were reported to law enforcement, said Deacon Tim McNeil, chancellor of the archdiocese.

No legal action was taken.

Syring had served as associate pastor at St. Mary since 2016.

The allegations are from 2014, the archdiocese said, when Syring was associate pastor of Divine Mercy Parish in Schuyler, Nebraska.

The archbishop removed Syring from Divine Mercy for “unwanted touching of young adults, publicly hugging and kissing minors on the cheek and inappropriate conversations with young adults and teenagers,” the archdiocese said.

Last week, the archdiocese announced that the Rev. Donald Cleary, a retired priest who had been celebrating Masses at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. James Catholic Churches in Omaha, was removed from public ministry after refusing to contest a decades-old allegation of sexual abuse of a minor.

The allegation against Cleary, 73, involves an alleged incident in the mid-1980s in Wayne, Nebraska.

Cleary was a pastor at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Wayne from 1986 to 1998.

A few days before that announcement, a World-Herald investigation revealed details of two sexual abuse allegations, made by adults, against another archdiocesan priest, the Rev. Francis Nigli, 58.

Nigli first was accused of sexual assault by an 18-year-old man from O’Neill, Nebraska, in 2013.

In June, a 21-year-old man reported that Nigli sexually assaulted him at St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church in Omaha.

St. Wenceslaus parishioners weren’t told at the time why he had been dismissed or of the previous allegation.

Nigli also had solicited Catholic school students’ cellphone numbers at St. Wenceslaus, the archdiocese said.

In Syring’s case, Omaha Archbishop George Lucas held two listening sessions in 2014 at Divine Mercy, where he shared the claims against Syring with parishioners.

Syring was admitted to a treatment center shortly after the allegations surfaced, the archdiocese said.

He was evaluated by a team of mental health experts and received months of in-depth residential care, officials said.

His case was heard by the Archdiocese Review Board, a panel of lay experts in the fields of law enforcement, child protection and welfare, education, psychology and medicine. One priest also serves on the board.

The review board and the treatment center determined that Syring could return to priestly ministry.

In 2015, he was assigned to St. Wenceslaus.

Catholics have called for greater accountability and transparency in light of sexual abuse scandals in the church. In response, the archdiocese said, Lucas promised that he would hold clergy to a higher standard of ministerial conduct. He also said he would begin the process of reviewing current clergy assignments to ensure that priests and deacons are appropriately placed. It was this review and a meeting with Syring that led to the priest’s resignation, the archdiocese said.

The archdiocese said it has received no allegations of misconduct against Syring since his time in treatment and return to ministry.

McNeil stressed that Syring was not under investigation by the archdiocese. “He’s been doing great” since undergoing treatment, McNeil said. But under the archdiocese’s higher standard, his case was re-examined.

In cooperation with the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office, the archdiocese is systematically going through files and looking for accusations of sexual assault or inappropriate behavior, McNeil said.

McNeil said he knows of no other accusations against clergy regarding sexual abuse or dealing with minors.

Syring was ordained by Lucas in 2011. He served at Divine Mercy in Schuyler (2011-14), St. Bernard in Omaha (resident 2014), St. Wenceslaus in Omaha (2015-16) and St. Mary in West Point (2016-18).

Syring “has indicated that he will leave priestly life,” McNeil said.

The archdiocese said anyone who has been sexually abused by church personnel should contact law enforcement or Mary Beth Hanus, the archdiocese’s manager of victim outreach and prevention, at 402-827-3798.

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