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Saint Paul University professor axed after sex abuse complaint

  • September 26, 2018

One of the world’s leading experts in Church law as it applies to the liturgy has been removed as a full professor at Ottawa’s Saint Paul University after a complaint from a man who says he was abused as a teen.

John Huels, who had taught canon law at Saint Paul since 1997, was removed from the university just days after Ottawa Archbishop Terrance Prendergast received an e-mail from Michael Bland, who says he was abused by Huels in the 1970s. At the time, Huels was a Servite priest in a parish in New Jersey.

Bland went on to also become a Servite priest, but left the priesthood in 1996 and began a career as a psychotherapist in Chicago.

Bland first went public about the abuse in 1994 after Huels was elected provincial superior of the Servites in Chicago. After a second victim came forward, Huels resigned and spent several years in Africa before joining Saint Paul University.

In 2002 Bland again shared his experience as an abuse victim with U.S. bishops as they adopted a “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.” Huels subsequently took a leave of absence from Ottawa’s pontifical university, suffering from severe depression. 

Ottawa’s archbishop at the time, Marcel Gervais, released a statement saying Huels intended to leave his religious order and the priesthood. The archdiocese ordered him not to present himself or act as a priest, according to a report in the Kansas City-based National Catholic Reporter.

On Sept. 18, Bland wrote to Prendergast about Huels in response to the archbishop’s letter to Ottawa Catholics about recent revelations of sexual abuse in the Church. 

Within four days, Prendergast wrote back to inform Bland that Huels was no longer teaching at Saint Paul.

“I can assure you that we are striving to do justice for those who have been harmed by abuse and to bring about healing,” Prendergast wrote to Bland, according to the NCR.

As Ottawa’s archbishop, Prendergast is ex-officio the chancellor of the university.

A spokesperson for Saint Paul University told The Catholic Register the university could not answer questions about how Huels was allowed to continue teaching after his history as an abuser was known in 2002.

Huels is the author of at least 14 books, most on liturgy and canon law. 

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