Sunday, April 21, 2002

Are priests' victims getting any help?

I wonder where they are now, all those boys molested by priests over the years. In Boston? In Pittsburgh? In Palm Beach? In Cleveland? In Cincinnati?

        Surely by now they know they are not alone. That it is not their fault. That the men who abused them were wrong. If they do not know these things, they should be told by somebody besides an attorney.

        Somebody from their church, for instance.

        Instead, at least here in Cincinnati, their church is telling them that “fewer than five” men with a history of sexual misconduct still are in the employ of the church, attending to priestly duties.

        Prosecutors all over the country, including Mike Allen here in Hamilton County, are pursuing the criminals who abused children. That's their job, of course. Because the sexual abuse of children is not just a sin. It's not just embarrassing. It's not just bad press. It's illegal.

        Accusing the archdiocese of playing a game of “hide the evidence,” Mr. Allen Thursday summoned Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk to testify before a grand jury. The archbishop was excused, but the point was made. “I want to get to the bottom of this,” Mr. Allen said. “We can do this the hard way or the easy way.”

        The church sent a signal of its own. Tom Miller, a very tough and effective litigator, joined the church's lead attorney Mark VanderLaan, who represented the archdiocese in suits involving the Rev. George Cooley when the Archdiocese fought a judge's order to release documents from its Vatican-mandated “secret archive.”

        Mr. VanderLaan said, “The idea that we are not cooperating is what we find to be very unjust. We are following as best we can the letter of the law.”

        Church officials have said repeatedly that they are bound by the wishes of victims to keep the sexual abuse quiet. Victims like Guy Guckenberger Jr.

"A dumb thing'

        He was 10 years old in 1978 when the Father Cooley climbed on top of him in his bunk at Fort Scott. He reported the incident to a counselor, who asked, “Do you want us to tell your parents?” And the boy said no. He was too embarrassed.

        After another complaint the following summer, the priest was ordered into counseling. He was later transferred to Guardian Angels parish in Mount Washington, where at least six boys would eventually complain of sexual advances.

        “At the time, we thought it could be cured,” archdiocese spokesman Dan Andriacco told the Enquirer. “It's always very, very difficult to look back in light of current knowledge and say, "How could we do such a dumb thing?'”

        Well, now you know. And we know, too, that abused children can suffer a lifetime of torment. Sometimes they grow up to repeat the cycle. What is being done?

        “If we know about them, we pay for counseling,” Mr. Andriacco said.

        But has the church — with its enormous resources and its “secret archive” — attempted to find these boys, now grown, to see how they're doing? To see if they need help?

        “That may be something to think about,” he said.

        Mike Allen says he is trying to do his job. But there's a bigger job to be done — one that calls for a shepherd, not a lawyer.

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