OMAHA, Nebraska — A Catholic priest is suing the Omaha Archdiocese for defamation nearly two years after he was removed from his parish in northeast Nebraska and listed among a group of clergy found to be credibly accused of sexual misconduct.
Father Andrew Syring says in the lawsuit that his career and life have been in tatters since the archdiocese abruptly removed him from public ministry in West Point in October 2018. A month later, the archdiocese published his name on the list of clergy abusers.
Syring had been an ordained priest for two years when he was accused in 2013 of boundary violations that included “publicly hugging and kissing minors on the cheek,” his lawsuit says. Syring vehemently denied any wrongdoing, and after a psychological evaluation and investigations by the church and law enforcement that found no criminal misconduct, he said, he was returned to public ministry.
Syring said he served four more years without incident in various parishes within the Omaha Archdiocese. His dismissal and listing among priests suspected of wrongdoing came within the same month the archdiocese faced a firestorm of public criticism for its handling of an associate pastor in an Omaha parish accused of sexual misconduct with an adult parishioner, Syring said.
“It saddens me that when the archdiocese was confronted by justifiable outrage from a parish it failed, it responded out of fear and chose to ‘burn the whole house down’ rather than making meaningful, individualized decisions about its clergy members,” Syring said in a statement.
The lawsuit was filed last week in Cuming County District Court and accuses the archdiocese of defamation and violation of due process, among other things. It seeks to recoup wages — estimated at $2.1 million — from the time Syring was removed from public ministry through the next 35 years, when he would have been expected to retire.
A spokesman for the archdiocese, Deacon Timothy McNeil, declined to comment on Syring’s accusations and lawsuit, saying they’re “now a matter of litigation.”
Syring acknowledged the seriousness of the sexual abuse scandal within the church and said he supports holding abusive priests and the church accountable for such abuse. But he maintains he was wrongly targeted in that attempt.
“Where can an innocent priest go to restore his name when truth is sacrificed at the altar of expedience?” Syring asked.