Two priests in Lincoln diocese reassigned with restrictions, following review of alleged misconduct

Christine Rousselle   By Christine Rousselle for CNA

Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska in St. Peter’s Square, a day before the canonization Mass of St. John Henry Newman, Oct. 12, 2019. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Washington D.C., Oct 20, 2021 / 16:09 pm (CNA).

Two priests in the Diocese of Lincoln are being reassigned to ministry with restrictions, following diocesan review of accusations of sexual misconduct. Neither priest was reportedly charged with a crime.

Fr. Scott Courtney, suspended from active ministry in September 2018 over accusations of having sexual relations with an adult woman, has now been assigned to minister to prisons, nursing homes, and retirement homes, as well as providing administrative assistance to the chancery, starting in January 2022.

Bishop James Conley of Lincoln said in an Oct. 8 statement that the reassignment was made after a hearing from the ministerial conduct board. Courtney had undergone “a professional evaluation and a period of personal renewal,” he said.

Another priest, Fr. Thomas Dunavan, has been tasked with providing administrative assistance to the chancery and helping retired priests, as of Nov. 8, 2021. In March 2019, shortly after he was ordained a priest, Dunavan faced an accusation of sexual misconduct that dated back 20 years. He was placed on administrative leave following the allegations.

“After commissioning an independent investigation, consultation with the Holy See, and hearing from the ministerial conduct board, restrictions have been imposed on Father Dunavan’s public ministry,” Bishop Conley said in a separate statement on Oct. 8.

According to the state’s criminal justice website, neither priest was charged with a crime, the Lincoln Journal-Star reported.

A third priest in the diocese has recently retired after pleading no contest to serving alcohol to a 19-year-old male.

Fr. Charles Townsend resigned his pastorate at St. Peter church in Lincoln in August 2018, and in May 2019 was found guilty of providing alcohol to a minor; he had pleaded no contest to the charge. The Journal-Star reported that the 19-year-old was an altar server. The diocese says it investigated the matter and forwarded its findings to the Holy See.

Townsend was sentenced to 30 days in jail and 18 months probation. The Lincoln diocese said that while his relationship with the then-19-year-old was inappropriate, it was not sexual in nature.

In July, the diocese announced that imposed restrictions on his public ministry and that he was a retired priest.

“The Congregation for the Clergy, after its independent examination of the matter, determined that no perpetual penalty could be imposed on Fr. Townsend,” Conley stated on July 23.


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