Parish shows support for Father Ward
By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
LEE'S SUMMIT - Suffering complications from a recent surgery, Father Tom Ward was released from a hospital stay on April 11.
Kevin Kelly/Key photo
Father Michael Rice, pastor of St. Margaret Parish in Lee's Summit, stands at the altar during the Offertory Prayers with children who are about to make their First Communion.
Lexie Terrono, a friend and a member of St. Margaret Parish where the retired priest has been helping with sacramental duties for three years, called him at his home that evening.
"He told Lexie that he had just gotten home when two reporters from The Kansas City Star showed up at his door unannounced," Tom Terrono, Lexie's husband, told St. Margaret parishioners at the end of Mass April 13.
Tom Terrono said that Father Ward explained to the reporters, who were working on a story based on 1994 allegations against the priest, that he was not feeling well and that he had referred them to St. Margaret's pastor, Father Michael Rice.
The story published the morning of April 13 stated, "Ward would not comment for this article."
The story, which rehashed the allegations of sexual abuse against Father Ward that were widely reported eight years ago, angered the Terronos and other members of the newest parish in the diocese who have known Father Ward for years.
"Lexie and I called Father Tom this morning and reassured him of our trust and faith in him," Terrono said. "I am asking all of you to pray for Father Tom and to let him know we are behind him 100 percent. No matter what, he is still our 'assisting priest.'"
The congregation of nearly 500, which meets on Saturday evenings at Grace United Methodist Church in eastern Lee's Summit, burst into applause.
Following Mass, parishioners who spoke to The Catholic Key said they have no doubts about Father Ward, nor do they have any doubt that the 1994 allegations against him are baseless.
Cathy Bell, a parish greeter and usher, said Father Ward "goes out of his way" to make special events, such as infant baptisms, even more special.
"He will write a special letter to them (the infants) that they can open on their 12th or 13th birthday telling them what their baptism was like," Bell said. "I trust him. I have never seen him act inappropriately."
Carol Borys said she has known Father Ward since he began assisting at nearby Our Lady of the Presentation Parish soon after his retirement in 1996.
"His homilies always touch a very positive chord," Borys said, who added that her trust in the priest is so high that if it were possible, she would allow Father Ward to baby-sit her own children.
"Absolutely," she said. "I would not hesititate."
Don and Mary Robinson, parishioners of St. Thomas More Parish in Kansas City who attended the Mass with the St. Margaret community to witness the First Communion of a grandchild, remembered Father Ward as a gutsy associate pastor at their parish.
"When people would try to leave Mass early, he would turn around at the altar and say, 'The Mass is not over yet,'" Mary said. "He had the courage of his convictions."
Lucy Hood, a St. Margaret parishioner, called The Star's story "a witchhunt."
"These journalists should be ashamed of themselves for not clearly writing that these were untrue charges," Hood said.
In his homily, Father Rice also repeated his confidence in Father Ward, and likened the priest's ordeal to Christ's suffering on the cross.
"The Lord is delivered to all people and suffered death only to have the truth of God shine forth, and in that, we find our salvation," Father Rice said.
Father Rice, who was interviewed for The Star story, told his congregation that the story "offered nothing of newsworthy value."
"It was a rehash of an accusation made many years ago. That allegation has already been determined with no finding of guilt (on the part of Father Ward) whatsoever," Father Rice said.
Father Rice, who was an early editor of The Catholic Key three decades ago, told his congregation that The Star pursued the story "to sell more newspapers."
"It is very tempting to use that typewriter, or today a word processor, to convey a message in a way that makes it appear real," Father Rice said.
Father Rice said that when he read the story, he thought of Jesus standing before Pilate and hearing his sentence of death.
"Our reaction has to be of Christ, and not out of our own anger and resentment," he said.
"This is a moment of strength for our community. The body of Christ will continue to be strengthened by his grace," Father Rice said.
"We are all in this together as witnesses to Christ," he said. "Let it not deter us from beginning to recognize in the most unusual methods and in the most unusual people the Christ who loves us so much.
"The challenge is to always keep ourselves open th the powerful healing of his saving grace," Father Rice said.