Sunday, August 05, 2001

Accusations not first to target priest

Church should've acted in 1989, some charge

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        More than 10 years ago, there were warning signs that the Rev. Ken Schoettmer may have been behaving inappropriately with boys — but little was done, authorities say.

        “In my opinion, a number of people knew what this guy was doing, and nobody wanted to do anything about it,” Butler County Sheriff's Lt. Greg Blankenship said regarding the Millville priest.

        Under police interrogation in June, Father Schoettmer admitted that he had sexual contact with three minors beginning in the mid-1980s. Two of the cases are too old to prosecute. Authorities are trying to assemble a case involving an alleged 1999 victim.

        Butler County authorities, who are working with Hamilton County investigators, say charges still could be filed against the priest. However, they could not say how soon or in which county.

        Father Schoettmer admitted his wrongdoing in a June 23 statement read by a colleague to his parishioners at Queen of Peace Church in Butler County's Hanover Township. The Archdiocese of Cincinnati placed him on administrative leave from the 750-family parish.

        Since then, Lt. Blankenship says, police have interviewed more than two dozen people, including former students and their parents and former parishioners. Some assert officials largely ignored their earlier concerns about Father Schoettmer.

        Lt. Blankenship says the complaints, reportedly lodged with school and/or church officials, should have led to action.

        “Although some of his conduct may not have been criminal, I think it was very questionable and definitely not conduct becoming a person in a position of authority over children,” Lt. Blankenship said.

        Archdiocese officials say they found no written complaints about the priest. But they acknowledge a Hamilton man told Catholic school officials in 1989 that Father Schoettmer had unwelcome discussions about gay sex with his teen-age son.

        The priest also was said to have talked to the student in rather graphic terms about gay sex, as well as providing the student two books about homosexuality.

        Dan Andriacco, archdiocese spokesman, says the complaint did not lead to an investigation.

        “It wasn't considered a red flag at the time,” he said. “Twelve years later, knowing what you know about Father Schoettmer, it seems like a very red flag indeed. But at the time, it wasn't.”

        Jack Garretson, Father Schoettmer's lawyer, declined to comment Friday. Mr. Garretson said he advised his client, who recently returned from Germany, not to talk to reporters.

        Priests who have sexual contact with minors — especially boys — had long been a hidden problem because it violates some core Catholic beliefs: that priests are to be celibate and highly revered, and that homosexuality is a sin.

        The abuses, which started coming to light in the mid-1980s, are less likely to be concealed now, says Philip Jenkins, author of Pedophiles and Priests and a Penn State professor.

        Political and legal pressures have forced all religious denominations to act more decisively on complaints against clergy, he said.

        “It's vastly improved; it's vastly more responsive; it's vastly more sensitive,” Mr. Jenkins said.

        But even in 1989, Father Schoettmer's actions should have set off alarms because “abuse by Catholic clergy was getting into the news big-time,” he said.

        In 1992, the Cincinnati archdiocese instituted a child protection policy that would call for such a situation to be documented — and most probably investigated, Mr. Andriacco said.

        Further, he said, the policy's requirement of parental consent for private counseling could have prevented the situation from occurring.

        The teen involved in the 1989 incident, now in his late 20s and living in Bellevue, Ky., agreed to allow the archdiocese to discuss his case with the Enquirer. The man, however, asked that his name not be published in deference to family members.

        Mr. Andriacco said Badin Principal Margaret Winkeljohn, who was an assistant principal then, said she remembers the allegations against Father Schoettmer. School officials responded by telling Father Schoettmer to stay away from the boy.

        Noting that principals in Catholic schools “tend to be rather deferential” to priests, Mr. Andriacco said Badin officials did not try to find out whether Father Schoettmer had similar discussions with other youths.

        That same year, a sex scandal embroiled Badin basketball coach James Weislogel. He was sentenced to three years in prison for having sexual contact with boys ages 11 to 16.


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