Thursday, June 12, 2003

Priest pleads guilty, won't face jail time


Rev. Schoettmer convicted of molesting boy

By Sharon Turco and Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] The Rev. Ken Schoettmer (right), a former priest at Queen of Peace Church, pleaded guilty Wednesday to molesting a 17-year-old boy.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
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The Rev. Ken Schoettmer became the first Greater Cincinnati priest in nearly a decade to be convicted of abusing a child when he pleaded guilty Wednesday to molesting a 17-year-old boy.

The 61-year-old suspended priest will not go to jail, but faces removal from the priesthood.

A Hamilton County judge sentenced Schoettmer to probation, allowing the victim, now 20, to avoid the agony of testifying in an open court trial.

Although several other priests have been accused of sexual misconduct during the past year, Schoettmer is the first Greater Cincinnati priest to be convicted of sex charges since the Rev. Earl Bierman went to prison in 1993 for abusing six boys in northern Kentucky.

Schoettmer, a former priest at Queen of Peace church in Butler County, pleaded in Common Pleas Court to one count of gross sexual imposition in exchange for the dismissal of additional charges of rape and sexual battery.

Prosecutor Mike Allen said the plea deal was necessary because the victim did not want to testify.

"Obviously, jail time would have been in order," Allen said. "But the victim was adamant. If it could at all be avoided, he did not want to testify."

STORY ARCHIVE
Click here for all Enquirer reports on accusations or actions against local priests.
Prosecutors said the offense occurred in June 1999 when Schoettmer attended a movie in Cincinnati with a teenager who was not affiliated with his church.

Without warning, prosecutors said, Schoettmer leaned over and fondled the victim.

"The victim didn't stop it," said Assistant Prosecutor Mark Piepmeier. "He felt awkward. His defense mechanism was just to freeze up."

Judge Robert Ruehlman sentenced Schoettmer to five years' probation and declared him a sexually oriented offender, which means for the next 10 years he will have to record his address at the sheriff's office in the county where he lives.

The judge warned him to avoid contact with children and to attend counseling sessions for sex offenders.

Ruehlman could have imposed an 18-month prison sentence.

"If you violate any condition, I'll give you a year and a half," Ruehlman told Schoettmer. "No question about that."

Schoettmer left the courtroom without comment, but his lawyer, Tom Heekin Jr., said "he has expressed complete remorse."

The plea is not the first time Schoettmer has admitted to sexual misconduct. He stunned parishioners at Queen of Peace two years ago when he confessed to them that he had three sexual encounters with boys between 1984 and 1999.

Because the other two cases occurred so long ago, the statute of limitations barred prosecutors from charging Schoettmer in those cases.

Officials at the Archdiocese of Cincinnati said Schoettmer, who has been suspended since 2001, will now face formal proceedings to remove him from the priesthood.

"The sad reality that some members of the Roman Catholic clergy have abused children continues to be a source of great distress to the entire Catholic community and great pain to me personally," Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk said Wednesday in a statement.

"I wish to express again ... my sorrow that anyone associated with the archdiocese would commit this terrible crime."

Schoettmer, a priest for 35 years, is living in a church-related facility where no children are present, Heekin said. Church officials said Schoettmer has worked for the past two years in a clerical job for the archdiocese.

Schoettmer is one of two priests indicted on sex charges this year in Hamilton County. The other, George Cooley, admitted in 1991 to molesting four boys and served a total of 18 months in jail. The new charge against Cooley accuses him of molesting a boy from 1984 to 1988. The boy was 8 years old when the incidents began.

The charges are the result of a yearlong investigation by prosecutors into allegations of abuse involving Catholic priests. The investigation began when the archbishop disclosed that four unnamed priests remained employed by the church despite past allegations of abuse

Four other priests have since been suspended or have taken voluntary leave because of misconduct allegations.

Allen has said that most of the allegations are too old to prosecute or involve priests who are now deceased. He said many of the victims also have been reluctant to pursue charges that might require them to testify in court.

Piepmeier said that was the case with the victim in the Schoettmer case. He said the victim, who did not attend the hearing Wednesday, was more interested in an admission of guilt than a prison sentence.

"He wanted (Schoettmer) to come forward and admit what he did, and what he did was wrong," Piepmeier said.

E-mail sturco@enquirer.com and dhorn@enquirer.com




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