Tuesday, September 12, 2000

Molester priest must stay in prison

Bierman won't get early release

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NEWPORT — A Northern Kentucky priest who received a 20-year prison sentence in 1993 for molesting adolescent boys in the 1960s and '70s will not be getting out of prison early.

        On Monday, Campbell Circuit Judge William Wehr denied the Rev. Earl Bierman's request for shock probation.

        “I was not surprised, but I was saddened and disappointed,” said Robert Carran, the priest's lawyer. “Shock probation is very rarely granted.”

        Richard Strunck, a 35-year-old Covington man who at age 12 was one of Father Bierman's victims, said he was pleased to learn the priest will remain behind bars.

        “I know it was a tough decision for Judge Wehr, but I think he did the right thing,” he said.

        Last week, Mr. Strunck had said he would support releasing the priest to the Vianney Renewal Center, a St. Louis-area treatment center for troubled priests. However, he changed his mind over the weekend when “it appeared there were some legal questions raised as to whether Father Bierman could be sent to that facility for the rest of his natural life,” he said.

        “This reassures me for the next six years,” Mr. Strunck said, adding he hopes the priest doesn't return to this area when he is released.

        Father Bierman now is scheduled for release from prison in December 2006. That could be moved up to February 2006 if the 68-year-old priest continues to have two months a year deducted from his sentence for good behavior, his lawyer said.

        Father Bierman was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 1993 after pleading guilty to 25 charges of molestation involving six adolescent boys in Kenton, Campbell and Mason counties. The incidents occurred while Father Bierman served as a priest, counselor and teacher at Covington Latin School, Newport Catholic High School and St. Patrick School in Maysville.

        Church records later released for a civil trial showed that there were dozens more teen-age victims.

        In his motion for shock probation, Mr. Carran had sought to have his client released to the Vianney Renewal Center, about 30 miles southwest of St. Louis. However, Judge Wehr agreed with the prosecution that too many questions remained, should that request be granted.

        In his order, the judge wrote: “As correctly pointed out by the commonwealth, the court still has no idea whether or not there is a potential for abuse of others in the setting proposed, has no idea of their willingness to accept this individual without the involvement of his church superiors, (and has no idea) whether the defendant really has the financial ability to pay for all of the proposed alternatives, including 24-hour (electronic) monitoring.”

        Jack Porter, assistant Campbell commonwealth attorney, said that prosecutors and the victims were pleased with the judge's decision.

        Of the eight victims prosecutors heard from, all but one said that they wanted Father Bierman to serve out his sentence, Mr. Porter said.

        “I think the court's order showed that the court shared our concern over the real lack of information as to exactly what this guy was going to be doing in Missouri,” Mr. Porter said.

        “There were a lot of unanswered questions about that facility where he wanted to go. If you read the literature, it seemed to have a resortlike atmosphere.”

        Information on the facility describes it as having a swimming pool, Jacuzzi, sauna and exercise room.

        Its director denied that it is a resort. The Rev. David Fitzgerald described the Vianney center as a “holistic” program providing long-term residential care to priests and brothers with spiritual, mental, emotional or physical needs.

        Mr. Strunck, who still undergoes counseling for the abuse he suffered as a boy, said he hopes Father Bierman, when he is released from prison, will be sent somewhere for treatment.


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