Friday, March 15, 2002

Allegations credible, but priests stay

No danger to children, Pilarczyk says

By Richelle Thompson,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        As many as five priests in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati who have been accused of sexual misconduct with teens are still serving in priestly roles.

        Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk said Thursday that before reinstating the priests, he received assurances from experts the men “in no way constitute a danger to children or adolescents.”

        The priests are not in regular contact with children and could be serving in a variety of priestly roles, which generally include parishes, hospitals, nursing homes or other assignments.

        No criminal charges were filed in any of the local situations, but the Cincinnati archdiocese determined the allegations were substantiated, said spokesman Dan Andriacco.

        Dioceses around the country are reeling from child molestation allegations and multimillion-dollar settlements, including in Boston, Philadelphia and San Francisco.

        The 19-county archdiocese, which includes more than a half million Roman Catholics and 324 priests, would not release the names, locations or exact number of reinstated priests.

        Archbishop Pilarczyk said he didn't know the number of victims, but guessed an average of five children came forward for each of the accused priests.

        The archdiocese followed the “demands of civil law in each and every case,” Archbishop Pilarczyk said.

        It was unclear, however, whether police were notified of the allegations in any or all of the cases.

        Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen said any allegations of child abuse should have been reported to authorities. He said his office will try to get more information about the allegations.

        “It's just wrong if someone has knowledge that this was happening to a child and did not report it,” Mr. Allen said. “You'd better believe it's something we will look into.”

        Some of the claims of sexual misconduct are more than a decade old, Mr. Andriacco said. There have been no cases in at least the past 4 1/2 years, he said.

        The accused priests followed a procedure for reinstatement outlined in the archdiocese's Decree on Child Protection, first adopted in 1993. The policy calls for strict monitoring, continued counseling and regular updates to the archbishop. Co-workers also are notified about the complaints against the priest.

        The majority of sex offenders have not been returned to priestly ministry, the archbishop said. That includes the Rev. Kenneth Schoettmer, the Butler County priest who admitted last summer to three sexual encounters with teen-age boys, and the Rev. George Cooley, who pleaded guilty to child molestation charges from the 1980s and has since been defrocked.

        Archbishop Pilarczyk apologized to children and adolescents who have been abused by representatives of the church and urged anyone who has suffered from sexual misconduct to come forward.

        Early this week, the archdiocese approved a new policy requiring criminal background checks on all new volunteers who come in contact with children.

        The child protection decree already mandated such checks for priests and employees.

        The news from the Cincinnati archdiocese disappointed lifelong Catholic Joseph Brotzge of Symmes Township.

        “I'm to a point that I think our bishops are as guilty of the sin as the abuser for letting this go on,” he said. “It's a risk that he's put our kids under ... I think there are other vocations these priests can work under and not come in contact with children.”

       Randy Tucker and Dan Horn of the Enquirer contributed to this report.


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