The Catholic Diocese of Lincoln has placed another longtime priest on administrative leave after an investigation revealed sexual misconduct concerns.

Bishop James Conley released few details about the suspension of 47-year-old Thomas Dunavan, the administrator at Falls City Sacred Heart Catholic School and pastor of Saints Peter and Paul Church in Falls City.

But in a statement, Conley said the allegations date back about 20 years and do not involve recent conduct.

Dunavan was ordained in 1998 and has spent his career in the Lincoln Diocese, serving at St. Mary’s and the Newman Center in Lincoln, and for an extended period in Tecumseh before moving to Falls City in 2015, said the Rev. Nicholas Kipper, a diocese spokesman.

Conley consulted with a four-member lay task force reviewing past allegations of sexual misconduct in the diocese, he said, and determined Dunavan’s case required further investigation.

The diocese hired a private investigator and turned over information to law enforcement as part of the Nebraska attorney general’s statewide investigation of clergy sex abuse, Conley said in his statement.

Dunavan is at least the fifth active priest removed by the Lincoln Diocese since early August for allegations of misconduct, though none involved reports of sex abuse of minors. And only one, Charles Townsend of St. Peter’s in Lincoln, has been charged with a crime —  giving alcohol to a minor.

The diocese also confirmed sex-abuse allegations against retired priest James Benton by two men who say he tried to molest them decades ago, when they were minors. It restricted Benton from exercising public ministry and prohibited him from being alone with minors.

And it acknowledged allegations of sexual behavior with seminarians by the late Monsignor Leonard Kalin during his time at the Newman Center on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus.

In late August, the state attorney general’s office asked Nebraska’s three bishops to provide internal investigative records of abuse allegations since 1978, and the Archdiocese of Omaha in late November named nearly 40 clergy members with substantiated claims leveled against them.

At the time, Conley said his diocese was cooperating with investigators but wasn’t ready to identify priests or personnel accused of sexual abuse and misconduct with minors. The bishop was also waiting for his task force to finish its review of past allegations and how the diocese handled them, he said.

Last month, Attorney General Doug Peterson doubled down, issuing nearly 400 subpoenas to the state’s Catholic churches, schools and institutions, demanding they produce records related to child sex abuse and assault.

A few days later, Conley and Omaha Archbishop George Lucas challenged the subpoenas, saying the attorney general’s request was too vague and his deadlines were unreasonable. They asked a judge to either toss the subpoenas or require Peterson to narrow his request and give the church more time to comply.

A hearing is scheduled on their request Tuesday.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7254 or psalter@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSPeterSalter.



Peter Salter is a reporter.

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