Thursday, May 22, 2003

Ex-Elder principal accused of abuse

Suit claims priest molested 4 in late '70s, mid-'80s

By Sharon Turco
The Cincinnati Enquirer


The Rev. Lawrence Strittmatter, a former Elder High School principal, molested "several dozen" students at the venerable west side Catholic boys school in the late 1970s to mid-1980s, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday by four former students who say they were victims.

The men, who were not identified in the lawsuit, are suing the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk and Strittmatter in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court for $1 million.

The lawsuit, filed by Mason attorney Konrad Kircher on the alleged victims' behalf, also says the archdiocese knew about the molestation but failed to investigate, never identified victims, never offered assistance to victims and failed to warn anyone about Strittmatter.

"Such conduct breached defendants' duty to protect plaintiffs from foreseeable harm and to prevent further harm," Kircher wrote in the court filing.

Click here for all Enquirer reports on accusations or actions against local priests.
Such behavior by the archdiocese constitutes a pattern of corrupt activity, he added.

The suit does not describe the specific abuse individuals may have suffered or the timing of it.

Reached at home Wednesday, Strittmatter declined to comment, saying he had not yet seen the lawsuit.

He was principal of Elder, in Price Hill, and of Our Lady of Victory School in Delhi Township from 1970 through 1988.

Several calls to diocese officials for comment Wednesday were not returned.

In March 2002, allegations of priest misconduct exploded nationwide, prompting the 19-county Archdiocese of Cincinnati to announce it still employed five priests who had been accused of past sexual abuse.

A few months later, Bob Fricke of Price Hill, an Elder alumnus, accused Strittmatter of having inappropriate physical contact with him during an off-campus racquetball game years earlier.

That same month Strittmatter was placed on administrative leave from his assistant pastoral post at St. Albert the Great Church in Kettering. He then retired.

Fricke's allegations were not the first the archdiocese had heard regarding Strittmatter. The first was made in 1988 by another former Elder student. That student said he was abused in the late 1970s. Church officials responded to the 1988 allegation by removing Strittmatter from his job as pastor at Our Lady of Victory and sending him to an undisclosed treatment center.

Strittmatter was placed at St. Albert in late 1988, ordered to stay away from children and continue counseling.

As the allegations unfolded, the Hamilton County prosecutor's office launched an investigation last year. Two former Catholic priests, George Cooley and Ken Schoettmer, were indicted in March on charges of sexually abusing boys while working at churches in Greater Cincinnati.

At the time, Hamilton County 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 priests are now dead.

Officials at the prosecutor's office declined to comment on whether Strittmatter is a part of their ongoing investigation.

Steve Kissing, a 1982 Elder graduate, called the allegations heartbreaking.

"It's frustrating for a member of the church," Kissing said of church leadership. "At times it's hard to keep from getting angry about it ... the way it's managed."

Kissing, author of Running from the Devil, a lighthearted memoir about growing up Catholic, said he does not blame Elder.

With allegations about Strittmatter swirling, the school in November brought in representatives from the Counsel on Child Abuse to speak to students, parents and faculty.

"What we learned a year ago was that some of the kids did not identify what was going on as abuse, or didn't know who to report it to," Elder Principal Tom Otten said.

"We'll continue the program we started," Otten said.


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