Monday, June 10, 2002

New allegation puts priest on leave

Another former Elder principal stands accused of misconduct

By Dan Horn and Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A second former principal of Elder High School was suspended by Catholic church officials Sunday because of allegations of misconduct.

        The Rev. Lawrence Strittmatter, Elder principal from 1970 to 1982, was placed on administrative leave from St. Albert the Great parish in Kettering after a former Elder student complained that he was sexually abused in the late 1970s.

        Father Strittmatter is the third former Elder faculty member — and the second former principal — to face misconduct allegations this year.

        The case also is significant because it involves a priest who was known by church officials to have a history of sexual misconduct.

        Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk confirmed Sunday that Father Strittmatter is on the archdiocese's list of five priests who had kept their jobs despite past allegations of abuse.

        The archbishop announced the list of five in March, but has previously refused to say who was on it.

        He said Father Strittmatter is now being named and suspended from his duties because the church only recently learned of additional accusations involving another victim, who came forward last month.

        “New allegations have come forward, allegations of behaviors that we did not know about before,” Archbishop Pilarczyk told St. Albert parishioners Sunday.

        “I apologize from the bottom of my heart to those who have been abused by Father Strittmatter.”

        Church officials say the most recent allegation was made last month when a former Elder student claimed in a phone call that Father Strittmatter had abused him in the late 1970s.

        The first allegation was made in 1988 by another former Elder student who said he was abused in the late 1970s.

        Church officials responded to the 1988 allegation by removing Father Strittmatter from his job as pastor at Our Lady of Victory in Delhi Township and sending him to an undisclosed treatment center.

        When he returned in late 1988, he was ordered to stay away from children and was reassigned to St. Albert the Great.

        Parishioners were not told of the allegation, but Father Strittmatter's supervisors were notified and the priest was ordered to continue seeing therapists.

        “His therapists have assured me that his inclinations were under complete control and that he posed no threat to this community,” Archbishop Pilarczyk told the parish Sunday.

        The archbishop said the 69-year-old priest, who could not be reached for comment, “has not denied” either the 1988 or the more recent allegation.

        Several St. Albert parishioners voiced support for Father Strittmatter after hearing the news, saying the allegations should not overshadow his years of work at churches and at Elder.

        Some, however, said they should have been told sooner about the allegations. Nikki Citrigno said the restrictions on Father Strittmatter's contact with children are no guarantee.

        “If you're trusting them to take care of your kids, you should trust them to tell you the truth about who is taking care of them,” said Ms. Citrigno, who sends her 2-year-old son to the church preschool but is not a parish member. “He was still around kids here, and he could have snuck off with one somewhere.”

        Archdiocese spokesman Dan Andriacco said the church has received no complaints of abuse involving Father Strittmatter from anyone at St. Albert the Great.

        But he said the archdiocese has been contacted recently by “two to three” other former students who have complained of inappropriate behavior by Father Strittmatter while he was principal at Elder.

        All of the accusations involve inappropriate touching, Mr. Andriacco said.

        The pastor at St. Albert the Great, Father James Manning, said he arrived at the parish 11 years ago and was immediately told “in confidence” by the archbishop about the 1988 allegation against Father Strittmatter.

        “Since (Father Strittmatter) was here before me I didn't feel it was my responsibility to say, "Hey, there was a problem here,'” Father Manning said. “You are torn between confidentiality on one hand and whether people have a right to know.”

        Mr. Andriacco said he understands why some parishioners may question the decision not to notify the congregation sooner.

        “At the time, it seemed to us that treatment and notification of the pastor was sufficient to ensure that Father Strittmatter would not be a risk to anyone,” Mr. Andriacco said.

        “Whether we would do it the same way again is open to question,” he said. “We might look at it differently now.”

        The archdiocese has been under pressure for months by the public and law enforcement to disclose more information about priests accused of misconduct.

        Although the news about Father Strittmatter came as a shock to parishioners in Kettering, a longtime parishioner at Our Lady of Victory expressed little surprise.

        He said parishioners were told in 1988 that Father Strittmatter left for medical reasons, but some at the Delhi church had heard rumors about misconduct.

        “When you tell me that statement today, am I shocked? No, because I was aware of all the rumors,” said Ed Cappel, who was business manager at Our Lady of Victory in the mid-1980s.

        Even so, Mr. Cappel said, most at the parish had “a very high regard” for the priest.

        Those who knew Father Strittmatter at Elder say they also had a high regard for him. Mr. Andriacco, an Elder graduate, described the priest “as a figure of respect.”

        Another former student, Chip Healey, said Father Strittmatter was known as a strict disciplinarian who was very involved with student organizations and extracurricular activities.

        “I never saw anything that would make me think there was a problem,” Mr. Healey said.

        Two other priests with Elder connections have been the subject of recent allegations.

        The Rev. Thomas Kuhn, who succeeded Father Strittmatter as Elder's principal, was suspended last month from his Dayton parish after someone complained about files found on his church computers. Several computers have been seized by authorities.

        Another Elder faculty member, the Rev. James Kiffmeyer, took a leave from teaching at the school because of accusations involving a former student at another school.

        Mr. Andriacco said the allegations should not be a reflection on the school.

        He said one explanation for the Elder connection to the three recent cases is that so many priests have worked at the school over the years, especially in the 1960s and 1970s.

        “At one time or another, a good number of priests in Cincinnati were faculty at Elder,” Mr. Andriacco said.

        He said Father Strittmatter would remain on administrative leave pending further investigation. He said the victim notified prosecutors of the complaint, but it's unclear whether criminal charges are even possible.

        The statute of limitations makes it difficult to prosecute cases that date back more than a few years. Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen could not be reached for comment Sunday.

       Enquirer Reporter Kristina Goetz contributed to this report.

        Parishioners learn of allegations Sunday

- New allegation puts priest on leave
Halting violence is mom's new goal
Heroin: Tristate users up; addicts getting younger
'Mall war' strategies outlined
Event breeds a doggone fun day for canines
Fiber-optic network nearly done
Hamilton chamber leader retires
Hope for a peaceful end
Sidewalks link homes with parks
Acquitted mother enjoys life
Residents petition against proposed landfill
Tristate A.M. Report
At vo-tech, brothers weld awards, skill
Kentucky plans possible bioterrorism response
New N.Ky. group to push gay rights
Program expands education in Ohio
Two men found dead in Indy hotel room
BRONSON: Boycott battle
You Asked For It