Policy Shift Could Oust Eight Area Priests
Archdiocese Begins Toughening Local Sex Abuse Policies
By Tom Beyerlein
Dayton Daily News (Ohio)
June 27, 2002
The Cincinnati archdiocese is rewriting its child sex abuse policy - a move that could lead to the permanent removal of eight area priests who have been found to have molested minors.
"It's clear to me that if they have abused children, they will never serve in a ministerial capacity again," Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk said Wednesday in an interview with the Dayton Daily News .
Pilarczyk said he has begun the process of toughening local child sex abuse policies to meet the national policy approved by U.S. bishops in Dallas this month.
A review board dominated by lay people who aren't employed by the 19-county Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati, which includes the Miami Valley, will evaluate each case to determine if the priests committed child abuse as defined by a national policy approved June 14 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The board will make recommendations to Pilarczyk on the fate of each priest.
The archbishop said he has directed archdiocesan Chancellor the Rev. Christopher Armstrong to redraft the local Decree on Child Protection, first issued in 1993, to conform to the mandates of the bishops' national policy. Copies of the updated decree may not reach the parishes until early 2003, Pilarczyk said, but it should be complete within six weeks 'so we can apply this to the situations we find ourselves in now."
The local decree previously allowed for the reinstatement to ministry of abusive priests who got psychological treatment and agreed to ongoing counseling and supervision. Four such priests, whom Pilarczyk declined to name, are still working in the archdiocese.
Another four priests are on paid administrative leave following substantiated child-abuse allegations. They are the Rev. Thomas Hopp, formerly of Queen of Martyrs Church in Harrison Twp.; the Rev. G.R. Keith Albrecht, formerly of St. Luke Church in Beavercreek; the Rev. Kenneth Schoettmer, formerly of Queen of Peace Church in Millville; and the Rev. Larry Strittmatter, formerly of St. Albert the Great Church in Kettering.
Strittmatter, who was placed on leave this month amid new allegations of sexual misconduct, had previously been restored to ministry after an earlier case, said archdiocese spokesman Dan Andriacco.
These are the eight priests whose cases will be studied by the review board. In addition, the Rev. Thomas Kuhn has been placed on leave pending the outcome of a Montgomery County sheriff's investigation that involved the confiscation of seven computers from St. Henry Church in Miami Twp. The Rev. James Kiffmeyer, a teacher at Elder High School in Cincinnati, went on personal leave after allegations he molested a minor while teaching at Fenwick High School in Middletown.
Pilarczyk said the review board will look at the cases "when they're ready - and I don't know when that will be." While the archdiocese already has a seven-member review board, Pilarczyk wants to expand the group to include "parents, perhaps victims," and experts in psychology, law and canon law, "because I want to get the best advice I can get."
He said he expects the names of the review board members to be made public. The reputations of the members will serve to show the public that the board isn't just a rubber-stamp for archdiocesan leaders, Pilarczyk said.
After considerable debate, the bishops approved a broad definition of child abuse: "Sexual abuse (includes) contacts or interactions between a child and an adult when the child is being used as an object of sexual gratification for the adult. A child is abused whether or not this activity involves explicit force, whether or not it involves genital or physical contact, whether or not it is initiated by the child, and whether or not there is discernible harmful outcome."
The national policy requires the permanent removal from any form of ministry of all priests found to have ever abused a child. But it stops short of requiring defrocking, or laicization, in all cases.
The policy calls for three disciplinary approaches.
Abusers can request laicization, or dismissal from the priesthood. The bishop can request a forcible laicization by a church tribunal. Or he can require the abuser to "lead a life or prayer and penance" while on indefinite leave.
At no time during this leave can the abuser represent himself as a priest.
Pilarczyk said if any abusive priests request voluntary laicization, "I will support that."
He dismissed critics who say the Dallas conference failed because it didn't result in a system for punishing bishops and cardinals who covered up abuse and moved offenders from parish to parish.
"The fact is, the bishops' conference doesn't have the authority to remove bishops," he said. "It's like saying the mayor of New York City should do something about a federal judge in Washington."
Some critics have said trust in the church won't be restored until some bishops admit their leadership failures and resign. Pilarczyk called this argument "the head-on-the-platter syndrome. But how many heads? How many platters? Which bishops?"
The archbishop said he never covered up sex abuse. Rather, he said, he followed the published decree that allowed for the reinstatement of offenders, admitted he reinstated several priests when he was asked by reporters in March, and subsequently complied with grand jury subpoenas from prosecutors in Hamilton and Montgomery counties.
He said he hopes the crisis facing the church helps society at large deal more effectively with child abuse. "This is not something that's confined to dirty old men in Roman collars," Pilarczyk said. "Most child abuse occurs in families."
The archbishop said church leaders have learned a lot by speaking with the faithful amidst the current wave of sex scandals.
"We've learned that people love their priests even when their priests have offended," he said. "We've learned that people are angry. We've learned that most people are saying, 'Isn't this sad?' and 'Let's pray for the church.'
"This is a suffering we all have to share together. If you want to keep being angry, you can be angry forever. We have to pray for healing."
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