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  2 Priests Suspended; More Allegations Arise

Cincinnati Enquirer [Cincinnati OH]
Downloaded August 11, 2003

Two Roman Catholic priests were relieved of their duties this weekend at a Tipp City, Ohio, parish after Cincinnati Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk revealed the men had engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior with children decades ago.

They are among six Archdiocese of Cincinnati priests who have been suspended or have voluntarily taken leave in the past 18 months because of misconduct allegations.

One of the two priests suspended this weekend, the Rev. Richard Unwin, 50, taught at Badin High School in Hamilton and also served at churches in Forest Park, Hamilton and Oxford between 1979 and 1987, when the sexual abuse likely took place.

Citing the victim's request for anonymity, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati would reveal neither the nature of his complaint nor the exact time or place when it took place.

Unwin had been pastor at St. John the Baptist Church in Tipp City since 2002.

The other priest, the Rev. Francis Massarella, 88, engaged in inappropriate behavior with girls in private homes more than 50 years ago, Pilarczyk said. Massarella served in several Cincinnati and Kentucky parishes in the '40s and early 1950s, but has been chaplain at Mercy Sienna Retirement Community, a nursing home near Dayton, Ohio, since 1956.

Massarella assisted at St. John the Baptist Church on weekends.

Meanwhile, a Mason attorney told the Enquirer he will announce today that he plans to add six plaintiffs to a lawsuit filed in May that alleged a former Elder High School principal abused four of his students in the 1970s and '80s. The newest six include both former Elder students and some who knew the Rev. Lawrence Strittmatter from his later assignment at a Delhi Township parish.

Each of the 10 victims seeks in excess of $1 million in compensatory damages, said Mason attorney Konrad Kircher, who represents all 10.

In Tipp City, 15 miles north of Dayton on Interstate 75, Pilarczyk told the church's congregation during weekend Masses that their current pastor was accused of and admitted to abusing a young man more than 15 years ago.

"Sadly," the leader of the 19-county Archdiocese of Cincinnati told the congregation, "there is still more."

Massarella, who helped with the church's weekend masses, engaged in inappropriate behavior with minor girls nearly 50 years ago, Pilarczyk told them.

"Father Massarella was allowed to be in limited active ministry because it was clear that he no longer posed a threat to anybody," Pilarczyk said. "However, the bishops of our country have agreed that no priest who has abused children would be allowed to remain in the ministry. Here in our diocese, we have been slow in implementing that decision because of secular court proceedings.

"Now, upon the advice of legal counsel, I have decided that I must remove Father Massarella from public priestly ministry," he said.

Indefinite leave

Both priests have been placed on indefinite administrative leave of absence - the strongest action a diocesan bishop, on his own authority, can take against a priest. That means neither Unwin nor Massarella may identify themselves as a priest, wear the priest collar or celebrate the sacraments.

The allegations against Unwin are new, surfacing only in recent weeks, Pilarczyk said.

Archdiocese spokesman Dan Andriacco said the archbishop simultaneously announced Massarella and Unwin being suspended to avoid putting the congregation through the same thing twice.

"It's a matter of pastoral sensitivity not to put these folks through this agony twice," Andriacco said. "It's a traumatic thing to lose your pastor."

An interim priest, the Rev. Eugene Vonderhaar, will be administrator at St. John the Baptist until a new priest can be assigned.

The announcements play against a national backdrop in which the Catholic Church has been accused of covering up priest sexual abuse scandals for decades and moved suspected abusers from parish to parish.

On Friday, the Boston diocese offered $55 million to settle more than 500 clergy sex abuse lawsuits, while the archdiocese of Louisville agreed to pay $25.7 million to 243 people allegedly abused by priests there. The Diocese of Covington apparently also has entered settlement talks with 22 alleged victims of sexual abuse.

Kircher, the Mason attorney, said Sunday that the six newest plaintiffs in his lawsuit against Strittmatter, the archbishop and archdiocese likely won't be the last.

Similar allegations

The six - who will be identified only as John Doe to protect their identities, as the original four were - all make similar allegations against Strittmatter, Kircher said.

The lawsuit alleges Strittmatter molested boys not only during his tenure as Elder principal from 1970 to 1982, but also later in the 1980s when he was a priest at Our Lady of Victory Church in Delhi Township. Kircher would not reveal the nature of the abuse.

"The gist of the lawsuit is the archdiocese knew in the 1980s what Strittmatter had done, but they concealed the facts, they failed to offer help to the victims, and the victims continued to suffer and not know there were others just like them," Kircher said. "The archdiocese didn't even try to find who the victims were. They didn't want the information to get out. They hid it."

The church has filed a motion to dismiss the civil suit on the grounds the statute of limitations had passed.

"The Archdiocese is interested in pastoral care and helping the healing of all victims, but that doesn't mean all legal claims are valid," Andriacco said. "We'd rather help the victims than meet them in court. But when we're taken to court, we have to take the appropriate legal action."

Strittmatter has been on administrative leave since last summer. He had been working as pastor at St. Albert the Great Church in Kettering, Ohio, until the allegations surfaced publicly.

After speaking with archdiocese attorney Mark Vander Laan Sunday, Andriacco emphasized the church wants to help sexual abuse victims with coping and paying for psychological counseling. But, he said, the church doesn't know who they are.

Kircher said he would hold a press conference this afternoon at St. Peter in Chains Cathedral in downtown Cincinnati with two prominent figures in the national clergy sex-abuse scandal: David Clohessy, president of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests; and Jeff Anderson, a St. Paul, Minn., attorney known as one of the foremost litigators against clerical sexual abuse.

Neither Clohessy nor Anderson returned phone calls Sunday.

Kircher said he, Clohessy and Anderson will reveal some evidence against Strittmatter today, as well as discuss a 1962 Vatican document ordering secrecy in cases of sexual misconduct involving priests, Kircher said.

Last summer, Bob Fricke of Price Hill went public with allegations that Strittmatter invited him off-campus to play racquetball and had inappropriate physical contact with him in 1979 and 1980 while Fricke attended Elder High School.

"We want (the archdiocese) to change the way they do business," Kircher said. "We want them to acknowledge they knew and didn't do anything about it."

Andriacco said the Archdiocese has paid $2.5 million in similar settlements the past 20 years, the bulk of which came from the church's insurance companies.

"But what we've never done is to pay people for silence," Andriacco said. "The only settlements we've had are to help the victims heal. That would be quite (different) from this lawsuit. Our motion to dismiss doesn't mean we don't want to help the victims. We just don't know who they are."

Resumes of priests

Cincinnati Archbiship Daniel E. Pilarczyk placed two priests on administrative leave because of sexual misconduct allegations: the Rev. Richard Unwin, 50, and the Rev. Francis Massarella, 88. Their service histories, according to the archdiocese:

Unwin was ordained in 1979.

He was a teacher at Badin High School in Hamilton, 1979-1987.

Served at St. Matthias, Forest Park, from 1979-1981, St. Joseph in Hamilton from 1981-1984, and St. Mary in Oxford from 1984-1987

Principal of Central Catholic High School in Springfield, Ohio, 1987-1991

Chair of religion department at Lehman High School in Sidney, Ohio, 1991-1993

Pastor of St. Boniface in Piqua, Ohio, 1993-2001

Named pastor of St. John the Baptist in Tipp City, Ohio, in 2002.

Massarella was ordained in 1941.

Member of Glenmary Home Missioners, 1941-1946

Trappist monk in Gethsemani Abbey in Trappist, Ky., 1946-1952

Assistant chaplain, Good Samaritan Hospital in Clifton, 1952

Served at St. Mary's in Piqua, Ohio, 1952; Guardian Angels in Cincinnati's Mount Washington neighborhood, 1952; St. Patrick's, a now-defunct Cincinnati parish, in 1953; St. Mary's in Springfield, Ohio, 1954; St. Edward, a now-defunct Cincinnati parish, 1955.

Has been a chaplain at Sienna House near Dayton, Ohio, now known as Mercy Sienna Retirement Community, since 1956.

 
 

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