Wednesday, June 12, 2002

Some in parish stand by priest

By Janice Morse,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        KETTERING — Diane Kolleck, who grew up in Western Hills, can't stop loving the Rev. Larry Strittmatter — no matter what he may have done wrong.

        The priest, now on administrative leave because of recently aired accusations of abuse dating from the late 1970s, taught Mrs. Kolleck's husband, Matt, at Elder High School in Price Hill.

Click here for all Enquirer reports on accusations or actions against local priests.
        Then, he married the couple 35 years ago. And he has been a fixture in their lives ever since.

        “He really is a part of our family. I adore that man,” Mrs. Kolleck said.

        Mrs. Kolleck spoke to reporters Tuesday night outside St. Albert the Great Roman Catholic Church in Kettering, where Father Strittmatter served. She was among 250 people who attended a 90-minute meeting in which parishioners asked questions of an eight-member response team assembled by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

        Archdiocesan officials handed out copies of its 1998 Decree on Child Protection, which sets out how reports of suspected abuse are to be handled.

        Father Strittmatter is accused of sexually abusing two students at Elder High in the late 1970s; he has not denied the allegations.

        He is among five archdiocesan priests who officials say have a history of sexual misconduct but have retained posts in the 19-county Archdiocese. The Hamilton County prosecutor's office is investigating subpoenaed archdiocesan records to determine if prosecution in any of the cases is warranted.

        Although many who attended Tuesday night were members of St. Albert, Mrs. Kolleck is a member of another parish near her home in Washington Township, south of Kettering.

        Reporters at first were told they could observe the Tuesday meeting, but before it began, Tricia Hempel, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese, asked members of the media to leave.

        Mrs. Kolleck's feelings are shared by Kathleen Glass of Washington Township, who said she knew Father Strittmatter through her parents.

        “He has admitted it. He has gone through therapy. ...” Ms. Glass said outside the meeting. “I think it's a shame that this is coming out ... years later when he has paid his dues.”

        Ms. Glass and Mrs. Kolleck said there were a lot of mixed emotions in the meeting, but they said there were a number of rounds of applause in support of Father Strittmatter.

        Meanwhile, Scott Collins, 36, said he attended the meeting because of concerns for his three children who attend the school at St. Albert. “My question is: What do you say to them?” he said.

        Mr. Collins said he hoped there would be more information advising parents how to discuss the situation with their children.

        “I think more information should be coming forward,” he said. “Obviously, there is a lot of healing that has to happen.”

        Mr. Collins, who has been a member of St. Albert for years, said, “It's a great church, a great parish and a great school. ... I think they'll get through it.”

        Even if allegations about Father Strittmatter prove true, Mrs. Kolleck said, she thinks the church is ultimately to blame because “they covered all this stuff up years ago.”

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