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Thursday, June 26, 2003 02:20 pm

The continuing saga of Brady and the Bishop

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For the past seven years, Stephen Brady and his Petersburg-based organization, Roman Catholic Faithful, have waged a very public battle against Daniel Ryan, the former bishop of the Springfield diocese. Brady took advantage of a lawsuit claiming Ryan had protected a pedophile priest to air various salacious allegations against Ryan himself. Now Brady is making a big deal over a gift the diocese just gave Ryan: a new house.

Until recently, Ryan had been living at the diocese's Pastoral Center on W. Washington, which included residences for retired priests. According to spokesperson Kathie Sass, Ryan was the only priest living there when the diocese decided to close down the residences. In April the Springfield Diocese purchased a home for Ryan located near St. Agnes Church, "off the market but for fair-market value," Sass says. "We consider it an asset to the diocese, an investment.

"According to the canon law of the Catholic Church, when a bishop retires he has the right to live in his diocese," says Sass. "And the diocese can provide him a home. Since priests no longer live at the center, it's easier for him."

But the purchase has renewed Brady's crusade against Ryan. On Roman Catholic Faithful's Web site, Brady has posted pictures of the home--evidently taken when Ryan was moving in--as well as a copy of the deed. "While priests who refused . . . to cooperate in Ryan's perversion were cast out of the diocese or forcibly retired with nothing more than a small pension check, Ryan . . . has been provided a new home for his exclusive use," the Web site says.

In 1999, Ryan, who's now 72, retired shortly before a lawsuit was filed against him and the diocese claiming an altar boy suffered sexual abuse from a priest in Lincoln. That priest, Alvin Campbell, had already been convicted and served prison time for abusing seven teenage boys during the same time period, according to Sass. The lawsuit accused Ryan of covering for Campbell. Last year two former male teenage prostitutes and a former priest claimed Ryan solicited sex from them; their allegations were used to support the lawsuit. The case is still pending. Sass says the diocese performed its own investigation of these claims and sent a report off to the Vatican, where it awaits review. The allegations were also forwarded to the state's attorney in Sangamon County, who declined to take action. This past September, Ryan removed himself from public ministry.

"Each bishop is in his own way a successor to the apostles," says Sass. "As such he can only be disciplined by the Pope. Part of the problem with Mr. Brady is that he's pre-empting the Holy Father. The Vatican moves in its own time."

Ryan has always denied the accusations, which have marred his otherwise notable tenure as bishop. Named bishop of the Springfield Diocese in 1983, Ryan established the Office for Social Concerns, which houses various ministries and programs promoting social justice, capital punishment reform, services for the poor and deaf, and ethnic diversity. He was known as a pro-life crusader and provider of interest-free loans for farmers. He initiated an ecumenical breakfast and prayer service that included local bishops of other denominations. Several other outreach programs owe their existence to him.

Ironically, what earned him a lot of respect was his openness about his own sins. In 1986 Ryan publicly acknowledged he was seeking treatment for alcoholism. "Courageous" often pops up as the word that best describes how he dealt with it. But alcohol did take its toll, leading to heart problems from which he still suffers.

"I saw him the other day," Sass says. "He looked pretty good. He was able to stand without feeling dizzy."