The Lincoln priest removed last year from St. Peter’s Catholic Church was charged last week with giving alcohol to a minor — in July 2017.
Charles Townsend has pleaded not guilty and waived his first court appearance on the misdemeanor charge.
The 57-year-old was placed on administrative leave in August, a year after Bishop James Conley learned the priest had an “inappropriate, nonsexual relationship” with a 19-year-old altar server that involved alcohol.
At the time, the bishop sent Townsend to Texas for treatment, though priests and parishioners were told he left for health reasons, and the teen’s parents weren’t told about the incident, according to a statement from Conley on the diocese website.
Townsend returned and served St. Peter’s until Conley removed him, asked the server’s parents for forgiveness, and alerted the Lincoln Police Department.
Witnesses ultimately told officers Townsend provided alcohol to the 19-year-old at a Lincoln home in July 2017, and the priest had to drive the intoxicated teen home, according to a statement Friday from Officer Angela Sands. Townsend was cited Jan. 9.
Townsend was one of several active priests the diocese removed last year during a nationwide focus on clergy sexual assault and cover-up — though none of the Lincoln cases involved sexual assaults.
The diocese did confirm sexual-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.
It also 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 the Lincoln Diocese was cooperating with investigators but wasn’t yet ready to identify any priests or personnel accused of sexual abuse and misconduct with minors. The bishop was also waiting for an independent task force to finish its own review of past abuse and misconduct allegations and how the diocese handled them, he said.
“It would be premature to publish any information regarding clergy and diocesan personnel while the independent task force is in the midst of its review,” he said then.
The Lincoln Police Department is still working with the diocese to investigate past and present criminal behavior by diocese staff, Sands said in the statement, and urged anyone with information to call investigators at 402-441-6000.