Savannah diocese ignored warnings about priest

The Post and Courier, Georgia/June 26, 2008

A lawsuit filed by a local attorney alleges that the Catholic Diocese of Savannah ignored warnings about a priest many thought was dangerous to children.

Allan Carl Ranta Jr., a student in schools operated by the diocese, was repeatedly taken across state lines into South Carolina and molested by Wayland Yoder Brown, a priest many in the diocese had worried about for years before the abuse, the lawsuit alleges.

The suit against the Diocese of Savannah was filed in the Jasper County Court of Common Pleas because the alleged abuse occurred there, attorney Larry Richter said.

The diocese asked the court to dismiss the case, arguing that South Carolina had no jurisdiction over it, but the request was denied, according to Harper Todd, a lawyer at the Richter firm who is handling the case.

Brown, who is a registered sex offender in Maryland, recently was released from jail after serving five years of a 10-year sentence on two counts of child molestation in that state. Brown, 64, will remain in the Baltimore area while paroled.

The suit alleges that Brown, then an employee of the Savannah diocese, came to know Ranta through counseling and mentoring, and that for nearly five years, from 1978 to 1982, he molested the boy in Georgia and South Carolina.

His modus operandi was to take children on "field trips," Todd said.

The suit claims that diocese officials had been informed long before the abuse began of Brown's affinity for young boys, "emotional immaturity" and lack of "holiness."

Concerns were expressed as early as 1969, when Brown was assigned to St. James Catholic School and Parish, according to the suit. In 1972, when Brown applied to seminary, observers warned of his proclivities, the suit alleges. Other clergy expressed their concerns to the bishop once Brown completed his first year of seminary. One wrote, "I really feel he will do more harm than good for the church," according to the suit.

More warnings came in 1974, 1975 and 1976, when the bishop postponed Brown's ordination. A year later, another warning: "I personally feel that Wayland's (Brown) ordination will discourage many vocations and discourage many people," wrote a priest, according to the suit. "I think we would be better off to have no priest rather than an unholy priest."

Despite these warnings, Brown was ordained and was allowed to be close to young boys, the suit alleges.

Joseph P. Brennan, an attorney based in Savannah representing the diocese, would not discuss the particulars of a pending case, saying only that the diocese was "denying responsibility for acts of this priest that are outside his priestly duties."

Barbara King, communications director for the Savannah diocese, said this was the only lawsuit of its kind filed against the diocese. She would not comment further on the case.

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