By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Two former Catholic priests were indicted Friday on charges of sexually abusing boys while working at churches in Greater Cincinnati.
The charges against George Cooley and Ken Schoettmer - who have both admitted to sexual misconduct in the past - are the result of a Hamilton County grand jury investigation of priests suspected of abuse.
Prosecutor Mike Allen said the investigation has turned up evidence of sexual misconduct involving as many as 20 priests and 75 victims, mostly boys and young men.
But Allen said nearly all of those cases date back 25 years or more and cannot be prosecuted because Ohio's statute of limitations has expired and, in many cases, the accused priest is now dead.
So far, he said, the cases involving Cooley and Schoettmer are the only two that are recent enough to allow criminal charges.
"It's devastating to the victims, and it's frustrating to us," Allen said Friday. "We feel we could prove many of these allegations beyond a reasonable doubt if we could go forward. But our hands are tied."
The grand jury indictment against Cooley accuses him of molesting an 8-year-old boy in 1984 while Cooley was a priest at Guardian Angels parish in Mount Washington. The indictment states that Cooley continued to molest the child until 1988.
Cooley faces eight counts of gross sexual imposition and could be sentenced to 10 years in prison on each count if he is convicted.
Cooley, who could not be reached for comment Friday, was removed from the priesthood and sentenced to 90 days in jail in 1991 after admitting that he had abused four boys. He later served another 15 months for stalking one of his former child victims.
Allen said the statute of limitations, which was recently raised from six to 20 years for sex crimes, was not an issue in the most recent case involving Cooley. He said the allegations came to light when Cooley's accuser, now an adult, contacted the archdiocese last year and was referred to prosecutors.
The charges against Schoettmer stem from an allegation made to authorities two years ago. Allen said the offense occurred in Hamilton County in 1999 when the alleged victim was 17.
Schoettmer, who could not be reached Friday, faces more than 15 years in prison if he is convicted on charges of rape and sexual battery.
Like Cooley, Schoettmer had previously admitted to misconduct with children. He was stripped of his duties as a priest in 2001 after telling parishioners at Queen of Peace church in Butler County that he had three sexual encounters with teen-aged boys between 1984 and 1999.
In a statement Friday, Cincinnati Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk said the allegations cause "great pain" to the Catholic community.
"I deeply regret that anyone representing the archdiocese, especially any priest, has ever committed this repugnant crime," Pilarczyk said. "I pray that these indictments will lead to justice and a measure of healing for the victims."
The alleged victims are not named in the indictments, but one of Cooley's previous victims said Friday that he is only cautiously optimistic that justice will be done.
"Cooley is a sick, diseased individual," said Steve Dasenbrock, now 33, one of the four boys Cooley was convicted of molesting in the 1980s. "I'm happy they're trying to get him off the streets, but I still wonder how much (the church) is hiding."
Court records show that church officials knew about allegations against Cooley for years but did not notify authorities. Church officials say they now have rules in place that require clergy and staff to report allegations. .
Allen said the indictments Friday do not end the investigation. He said prosecutors will continue to investigate whether high-ranking church officials broke the law by failing to report accusations.
If they did, Allen said, criminal charges are possible.
For now, though, Allen said the only charges he can prove are those leveled Friday against Cooley and Schoettmer.
He said the investigation will not end until after an appeals court rules this year on whether prosecutors are entitled to dozens of disputed church records.
The archdiocese contends the documents are protected by attorney-client privilege, while prosecutors argue the records should be turned over because they could be evidence of crimes.
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