Saturday, April 06, 2002

Priest's death ruled a suicide

By M.R. Kropko
The Associated Press

        CLEVELAND — A Roman Catholic priest who was facing a newly disclosed allegation of child sex abuse from 1980 committed suicide, a coroner ruled Friday.

        The Rev. Don A. Rooney, 48, was found slumped over the wheel Thursday in a pharmacy parking lot in suburban Hinckley, a gunshot wound to the head. Cuyahoga County coroner Elizabeth Balraj ruled it suicide.

        The priest left a note. “It was just to notify a family member. That's all,” Dr. Balraj said.

        Father Rooney's church, St. Anthony of Padua in nearby Parma, planned a prayer service Friday night for the priest. Arrangements for his funeral were not complete Friday.

        Bob Tayek, spokesman for the Cleveland Catholic Diocese, said it remains unclear whether Father Rooney knew he was under investigation for the alleged abuse.

        Mr. Tayek said a woman had called on Monday to allege that Father Rooney, as a newly ordained priest, sexually abused her in 1980 when she was a girl.

        His accuser said the abuse occurred at his first priestly assignment, at Sacred Heart Church in Wadsworth.

        The diocese had asked Father Rooney to attend a meeting with Bishop Anthony Pilla on Wednesday but did not tell him that it was about the allegation, Mr. Tayek said. Bishop Pilla has been outspoken about the need within the diocese to identify priests who have abused children.

        Father Rooney's family reported him missing when he did not show up, Mr. Tayek said. Wadsworth police and the Cuyahoga County's Department of Children & Family Services were then notified of the woman's complaint.


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