Saturday, March 30, 2002

Priest asked to leave his duties after accusation

Cleveland church official suspected of molesting child

        CLEVELAND — A bishop washed the feet of a priest's rape victim Thursday, the same day the diocese asked a priest to leave his duties because of abuse allegations in a separate case.

        The Roman Catholic Diocese of Cleveland is investigating accusations that the priest abused a child 35 years ago at St. Monica in suburban Garfield Heights. The Cuyahoga County Department of Children and Family Services sent a letter to the diocese containing the allegations against the Rev. Raymond Bartnikowski.

        Bob Tayek, spokesman for the diocese, said Friday the investigation is a police matter until it's resolved.

        “Not only did we ask him to be on leave from his ministerial duties, we'll help with any investigating as it relates to any possible criminal action,” Mr. Tayek said.

        Garfield Heights police Capt. Tom Kaiser said the investigation is starting but no one had been questioned as yet.

        Nationwide, the church has struggled with sexual abuse scandals since January, after disclosure that a Boston-area priest suspected of abuse was moved from parish to parish.

        On Holy Thursday, Cleveland diocese Bishop Anthony Pilla re-enacted Christ's washing of the apostles' feet by washing the feet a 29-year-old woman who was molested as a child by the Rev. Martin Louis.

        The woman later addressed the congregation at St. John Cathedral in downtown Cleveland, sharing how she “felt abandoned by the church and those around me.” But she said her road to recovery was paved by the grace of God.

        “I just think it takes tremendous courage, tremendous faith and an unbelievable sense of forgiveness to do what she did,” Bishop Pilla said.

        She was molested for three years by Father Louis, who was indicted on 14 counts of rape in 1992. He pleaded guilty to one count as part of a plea bargain and was sentenced to five to 25 years in prison.

        She has said the church did little to help her through her ordeal and in 1996, as she prepared to oppose Father Louis' early release from prison, she was shocked when Bishop Pilla wrote a letter supporting him. Bishop Pilla later withdrew the letter after learning of her opposition.

        Meanwhile, some employees of the diocese knew years ago of allegations that another priest molested schoolgirls, but they did nothing about it, a teacher at St. Francis de Sales School said.

        Parents of children at the school told the Rev. A. James Quinn, now the auxiliary bishop of the diocese, about allegations involving the priest, said Cathy Dietz, who was a second-grade teacher at the school.

        She said that because the diocese did not respond, faculty members called a parents meeting in 1969 to discuss how to protect children from the late Monsignor Edward Kickel.

        One woman who said she was sexually abused by the priest was denied financial help by the diocese for psychological counseling two years ago, the Plain Dealer reported.

        The diocese last week said that it interviewed two nuns who were teachers at the school and neither could verify allegations that Monsignor Kickel repeatedly put his hand up the girl's dress.

        Bishop Quinn, who was diocesan chancellor at the time, said this week through a spokesman that he had “no recollection of anyone coming forward on anything relating to Monsignor Kickel, or any kind of abuse at all at St. Francis de Sales.”

        Ms. Dietz, now a counselor, is a candidate to serve on a diocesan task force created this week to study the church's handling of sex abuse cases, said William Denihan, who will be in charge of the task force.


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