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AUSTIN EDITION -- Bishop visits with stunned congregation in Rochester

By Bob Freund

freund@postbulletin.com

The hymn filling Pax Christi Church in Rochester shortly after Bishop Bernard Harrington spoke from the pulpit was "Jesus, Heal Us."

The leader of the Catholic Diocese of Winona came Sunday to personally aid the healing at Pax Christi, a church that was stunned 10 days ago by news of the arrest of its pastor on a criminal sexual misconduct charge in St. Paul.

The Rev. Edward McGrath, 48, was arrested May 7 in a St. Paul park and charged with fifth-degree criminal sexual conduct. Police accused him of sexually touching himself and an undercover police officer.

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"It was with shock and disbelief that I received the news," Harrington told parishioners at Sunday's masses. The priest was immediately placed on leave.

Last week, the bishop announced, McGrath resigned as pastor of Pax Christi, where he had been assigned in mid-2002. He also gave up all administrative posts. A canon lawyer, McGrath was nearing the end of a term as judicial vicar, the cleric empowered by the bishop to act on most matters of church law, but not civil law. McGrath also had been a member of the diocese sexual misconduct review board.

Describing himself as "chief pastor" for the diocese, Harrington said he was able to identify with any anger and embarrassment parishoners might have. He conveyed an apology from McGrath, who was not present. McGrath has started counseling, the bishop said.

Harrington said he will begin seeking a replacement for McGrath immediately. "A new pastor should be with you some time during the summertime," he told the parish.

In the interim, Pax Christi's associate pastor, the Rev. Caesar Draglega, will administer the parish and step into a broader pastoral role.

"The parish is very upset," Judy O'Fallon said after one Mass.

The couple applauded the bishop's move to take recommendations for a new pastor from parish leaders, as well as his regular counselors.

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