A Carter Lake, Iowa man has alleged that a long-time Omaha Catholic priest sexually abused him in the early 1990s, the Omaha Archdiocese announced today.
The Rev. Al Salanitro denies the allegations, said Deacon Tim McNeil, chancellor of the archdiocese. He said the 52-year-old Salanitro, pastor of St. Bernadette Catholic Church in Bellevue, is on a leave of absence while the archdiocese investigates.
"We take every accusation of sexual abuse very seriously," McNeil said.
The archdiocese has reported the allegation to law enforcement, he said. Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine confirmed Friday that his office had received a letter from the archdiocese about the allegations.
"It's being forwarded to the Omaha Police Department's child victim unit," Kleine said.
McNeil said the man went to the archdiocese with the allegations about two weeks ago. The man told the archdiocese that Salanitro had abused him from 1991 to 1994. The man was about 11 at the time, and Salanitro was pastor at Omaha's Holy Cross Catholic Church. The man who made the allegations was not a parishioner, McNeil said.
Upon receiving the complaint, archdiocesan officials contacted Salanitro, who immediately denied the allegations and said he had never sexually abused any minor. Salanitro left St. Bernadette's parish right away. The leave of absence is voluntary, but archdiocesan officials agreed it was best, McNeil said.
A brief letter from Salanitro to parishioners and school parents at St. Bernadette was mailed Thursday. The letter informs them that an accusation of sexual abuse had been made, and that the Rev. Joseph Broudou would take Salanitro's place on the Mass schedule.
"I deny ever having sexually abused this individual," the letter says. "The Archdiocese of Omaha is investigating this allegation. Thus, for the good of the Church and St. Bernadette Parish, I am taking a voluntary leave of absence while the investigation is pending."
Salanitro, in the letter, asked parishioners for prayers and support.
McNeil said he was aware of no allegation about Salanitro from St. Bernadette's or any other parish where he has served. Salanitro was assigned to St. Bernadette in 2006. As pastor, he made classroom visits and gave mini-lessons at the parish's school.
McNeil said information about the allegations was given about a week ago to the archdiocese's review board, an advisory group of lay people whose duties include helping Archbishop George J. Lucas investigate allegations.
Under the archdiocese's and U.S. Catholic bishop's policies, Lucas must determine if there is sufficient evidence.
"If there is no evidence of sexual abuse of a minor, Father Salanitro will be returned to ministry," McNeil said. "If there is sufficient evidence that Father Salanitro committed sexual abuse of a minor, Archbishop George Lucas is obliged to send the case to the Vatican for instruction on how to proceed."
Ordained in 1989, Salanitro served at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Omaha from 1989 to 1991, Holy Cross from 1991 to 1995, St. Anne in Dixon, Neb. and St. Mary in Laurel from 1995 to 2000, and St. Francis Borgia in Blair from 2000 to 2006.
He has a brother, the Rev. Carl Salanitro, who is also an Omaha Archdiocese priest.