Wednesday, August 22, 2001

Judge says church erred on sex case

He urges relatives to file suits

By Jim Hannah
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — Archdiocese of Cincinnati officials either ignored or failed to check the prior criminal record of a former girls basketball coach sentenced to 90 days in jail Tuesday on misdemeanor sex abuse charges, a Kenton County judge said.

        District Judge Douglas J. Grothaus delivered a blistering attack against the archdiocese during the sentencing of Thomas Rohrkasse of Villa Hills.

        The 37-year-old was charged in June with providing alcohol to six underage girls he invited to his Northern Kentucky home for a sleep-over in April, and to sexually abusing two of them.

        Under terms of a plea agreement, he pleaded guilty to one charge of sex abuse and six charges of providing alcohol to a minor.

        “Time and time again, the church has condoned this activity to the point where they continue to expose our children to perpetrators such as you,” Judge Grothaus said.

        He added that he would have preferred to sentence Mr. Rohrkasse on felony charges, but families of the teens agreed to a plea bargain. The judge urged relatives to file suits in civil court against the archdiocese.

        “That seems to be the only way we are going to keep the church, and other organizations, from sweeping these incidents under the rug,” he said.

        Archdiocese spokesman Dan Andriacco denied any coverup. He acknowledged, however, that a “miscommunication” within the parish allowed Mr. Rohrkasse to continue coaching when he should not have been.

        Mr. Rohrkasse was a volunteer teen-age girls' basketball coach at St. Antoninus Church in Green Township.

        Judge Grothaus, citing a pre-sentencing report conducted by the Kenton County Probation Department, said at least one allegation of sexual misconduct at St. Antoninus was brought against Mr. Rohrkasse as early as 1999.

Earlier allegation

        That allegation involved a young girl at a church festival. Judge Grothaus said a priest, Father Donald McCarthy, convinced that girl's family not to pursue criminal charges at the time.

        “This is the first time that anyone has made the suggestion that the priest talked someone out of filing charges.” Mr. Andriacco said Tuesday.

        He said it was the church's understanding that Green Township police did not file criminal charges in that case because of a lack of evidence.

        The Green Township officer who handled the investigation could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

        Mr. Andriacco said Mr. Rohrkasse should not have been allowed to continue coaching after that.

        The reason he continued, Mr. Andriacco said, was because Father McCarthy did not know Mr. Rohrkasse was a coach. About 1,500 families are members of the western Hamilton County parish, which has more than 100 coaches for sports teams.

        Calls to Father McCarthy were forwarded to Mr. Andriacco, the archdiocese's primary spokesman.

        “This is an extremely regrettable, unfortunate incident that might not have happened if there had been better communication,” Mr. Andriacco said.

        “Under our child protection policy, (Mr. Rohrkasse) should not have been allowed to continue as a coach.”

        Mr. Andriacco said Father McCarthy counseled Mr. Rohrkasse after the first allegation. The former coach, according to Mr. Andriacco, told the priest his problem was “a result of his drinking.”

        Mr. Rohrkasse was a coach for a team sponsored by the parish. Mr. Andriacco said the team consists of teen girls who want to play organized basketball but did not make their high school teams.

        Mr. Rohrkasse was charged in Campbell County in 1993 with sexual abuse, according to court records, and convicted on a less-serious charge of disorderly conduct.

        He was sentenced to two years probation, prohibited from any contact with the victim and ordered to undergo treatment. Judge Grothaus said Mr. Rohrkasse was accused of fondling a friend's 12-year-old daughter.

        Court records also show Mr. Rohrkasse was convicted of a 1992 DUI in Boone County.

        The party in June brought Mr. Rohrkasse's past to light.

        Court records show that on April 28, six of Mr. Rohrkasse's players attended a sleep-over at his house, where he lived with his wife and children. After the girls' parents left and Mr. Rohrkasse's family went to bed, the coach went out to the camper where the players were sleeping.

        He told the girls that he placed wine coolers in nearby woods and that they should help themselves, but to keep it a secret so he wouldn't get in trouble.

        Mr. Rohrkasse then touched one 15-year-old on the legs and performed a sexual act on a 16-year-old who had consumed at least three wine coolers.

        ""Our daughters were forced to grow up quickly that night,” said Chuck Vaughn, an assistant Kenton County attorney.

        “They were put in a terrible situation that no person should ever be subjected to. A certain innocence is gone, stolen from the girls from someone they trusted, someone we all trusted.”

        Mr. Rohrkasse's sentence goes beyond 90 days in jail and two years probation. He is to have no unsupervised visits with any minors, including his own children. He is not allowed to drink alcohol or live in a home where alcohol is present. He is ordered to register as a sexual predator and receive counseling.

        In addition, he must pay for up to two years of counseling for his former players.

        “You might think the court has you on a leash,” Judge Grothaus said to Mr. Rohrkasse. “But I have you by the collar. I will yank you back here ... if you make one wrong move.”

        Mr. Rohrkasse's former players and their families attended the sentencing but declined to speak with reporters.

Policy could change

        The Rohrkasse incident is one of two recent criminal cases charging inappropriate actions by volunteer coaches that has Cincinnati archdiocese officials considering changes in the way it screens volunteers.

        Earlier this month, Mr. Andriacco said officials could expand screening procedures to include criminal background checks.

        The changes, if approved, would then become part of a five-year revision of the Archbishop's Decree on Child Protection.

        Created in 1993, the decree regulates employee and volunteer interaction with children, and requires training and screening practices for volunteers and employees.

        In March, Ohio lawmakers approved a plan giving public schools the option of doing criminal checks on volunteers and requiring them to notify those volunteers that they may have to undergo a records check.

        Last year, Kentucky began requiring state criminal-records checks of adult volunteers who have regular contact with or who supervise children at a school or on school-sponsored trips.


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