Tuesday, April 09, 2002

Nine Cleveland priests suspended on sex abuse allegations

By Thomas J. Sheeran
The Associated Press

        CLEVELAND — The Diocese of Cleveland suspended nine Catholic priests Monday pending a review by prosecutors of past child sexual abuse allegations against them.

        None of the cases was recent and some dated back 15 years, diocese spokesman Robert Tayek said. He said the diocese had previously evaluated and treated all the suspended priests and that there have been no complaints about them since they returned to work in the diocese.

        “To our knowledge, they have been successfully performing their ministries without incident,” the diocese said in a statement.

        Mr. Tayek said the priests will remain on administrative leave until the Cuyahoga County prosecutor's office has a chance to review the allegations. He said that on Friday, prosecutors subpoenaed the diocese for all material regarding child abuse allegations.

        Diocese officials were collecting that material, and Mr. Tayek did not know when it would be turned over to prosecutors.

        Placed on leave were the Revs. Russell Banner, Gary Berthiaume, Donald Brickman, Joseph Brodnick, Joseph Labbe, Joseph Lang, Joseph Lieberth, Anthony Rebol and Joseph Romansky. None could be reached for comment. There was either no phone listing under their names or no answer to calls.

        Mr. Tayek said the diocese is conducting its own review of the allegations against the priests because it wants “full disclosure of these cases.” He would not comment on the past allegations other than to say they all involved sexual abuse with priests and minors. A message seeking comment was left for county Prosecutor Bill Mason.

        The diocese also released the names of 12 other priests “no longer in active ministry because of allegations in the past of abuse of minors.” They included the Rev. Martin Louis, who was sentenced to five years to 25 years in prison on a guilty plea to rape 12 years ago.

        Mr. Tayek said the decision to suspend the nine also was in line with a statement by Bishop An thony M. Pilla. It was distributed to parishioners at weekend Masses.

        “The issue of sexual abuse is a matter of open and public discussion,” Bishop Pilla said.

        “While this is often painful, it allows us to address the issue more directly. In this way, all of us can become more alert to the dangers, more protective of potential victims, more pastorally responsive to those who have been victims of abuse and more effective in dealing with those responsible for the abuse of minors.”

        A 10th priest was suspended two weeks ago over newly disclosed abuse allegations. Last week, the Rev. Don A. Rooney, 48, killed himself two days after an allegation dating from 1980 surfaced against him.

        Father Rooney, associate pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Church in Parma, will be buried today with Bishop Pilla presiding at his funeral Mass.

        The Cleveland diocese has 235 parishes with more than 800,000 Catholics and about 340 priests in Ashland, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain, Medina, Summit and Wayne counties.

        A national examination of child sex abuse cases among priests has intensified since January, with the disclosure in Boston that former priest John J. Geoghan was moved from parish to parish after being accused. Since January, several dozen priests out of more than 47,000 nationwide have been suspended or forced to resign.


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