Saturday, March 23, 2002

Church faces historic inquiry

Archdiocese to furnish abuse files

By Dan Horn,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Prosecutors will begin an unprecedented investigation next week into allegations of sexual abuse by priests in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

        For the first time, law enforcement will have access to years of church records, correspondence and reports related to complaints against priests.

Mike Allen
Mike Allen
        The investigation could lead to criminal charges against suspected abusers and possibly against church officials who failed to report the abuse of children.

        It also could shed light on how well — or poorly — the Catholic Church has responded to allegations of sexual abuse.

        “I don't know what we'll find,” said Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen. “But we want every record they have that would give any evidence whatsoever of child abuse.”

        The move came as Catholics in Cincinnati and across the country continued to grapple with sordid revelations about their priests.

        Many of the priests — including some in Boston, New York and Europe — are accused of repeatedly abusing children while their superiors did little or nothing to stop them.

        “I feel like this has given the Catholic church a real black eye,” said Ryan Campbell, a Blue Ash resident who is among the archdiocese's 500,000 parishioners.

        The issue arose in Cincinnati last week when Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk has admitted that the church had substantiated allegations of misconduct involving “fewer than five” priests, all of whom remain in priestly roles.

        The archbishop, who's run the diocese since 1982, said those allegations dated back more than 10 years and were not disclosed to authorities.

        Mr. Allen and other prosecutors in the 19-county archdiocese immediately called for details about the cases, saying the church had a legal and moral obligation to open its files.

        Although church officials initially resisted those demands, they agreed Friday to cooperate with prosecutors.

        They did ask, however, for a grand jury subpoena that would guarantee all records remain secret until or unless criminal charges are filed.

        “We're giving the prosecutor everything he asks for,” said Dan Andriacco, spokesman for the archdiocese. “We're asking that it be done under a mechanism that ensures maximum protection to those who came to us in confidence.”

        Mr. Andriacco said many of the victims were concerned about publicity and had told church officials they did not want to pursue criminal charges.

        During the past week, several of those victims have contacted the archdiocese because they were concerned about confidentiality.

        “We want to work with the prosecutor,” said Mark VanderLaan, the archdiocese's attorney. “And I think he fully appreciates the concerns for confidentiality by the people who have come forward.”

        Mr. Allen said the archdiocese has been cooperative, and he agrees a grand jury subpoena makes sense.

        “We don't want to harm the victims,” he said.

        The investigation is expected to begin as early as Monday, when the grand jury will be asked to issue a subpoena for the records.

        It's less clear where the investigation will go from there. The first step will be determining the scope of the investigation.

        Technically, prosecutors will have access to decades of records, but it would be impractical and too time-consuming to review all of them.

        “We'll eventually decide how to narrow the time frame,” Mr. Allen said. “But I don't want to box myself in yet.”

        Even with a narrower scope, such as the past five or 10 years, the review likely will cover hundreds and perhaps thousands of pages of church records.

        Mr. Allen said prosecutors expect to spend several weeks reviewing the records to determine if a criminal case can be made.

        If they believe one can, the next step is seeking subpoenas for witnesses, accused priests and church officials who may know about the individual cases.

        Based on their testimony and the records, prosecutors will decide whether to seek criminal indictments against suspected abusers or church officials who may have failed to report them.

        “We're duty-bound to investigate and prosecute any violation of criminal law,” Mr. Allen said. “If they're there, we'll do it.”

        But he knows it won't be easy. Many of the cases are so old it may be difficult to prosecute because the statute of limitations has expired.

        In the past week, Mr. Allen said, he has received several calls from people claiming to be abuse victims of priests. But he said those allegations also date back several years.

        In most cases, he said, victims are required to report abuse within two years.

        No matter what happens with the criminal investigation, some victims hope it will expose what they see as deep-rooted problems with the way the church handles abusive priests.

        “They need to have a zero-tolerance policy,” said Guy Guckenberger Jr., who was abused by a priest in Cincinnati at age 10. “The first time they hear about it, they should report it to authorities. They have no business trying to figure out this mess by themselves.”

        Although his case may be among those turned over to prosecutors, it will not be news to them. The priest accused of abusing Mr. Guckenberger is George Cooley, who was criminally charged and defrocked by the church.

        Mr. Guckenberger, now 35, said the church must be held accountable for the actions of its priests.

        “The church isn't above the law,” he said.

        Enquirer reporter Richelle Thompson contributed to this report.
Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen will lead the abuse inquiry.


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