Archbishop Places Abusive Priests on Leave
10 Now Face Permanent Removal from Ministry
By Tom Beyerlein tbeyerlein@DaytonDailyNews.com
Dayton Daily News [Cincinnati OH]
Downloaded September 23, 2003
Cincinnati Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk announced Monday he has placed three sexually abusive priests, all with Dayton-area ties, on paid leave in what he called the first step toward permanent removal from ministry.
Pilarczyk said his action, taken upon the recommendation Friday of the archdiocese's Child Protection Review Board, means that no area priest with a previous "substantiated" case of sexual abuse against minors is now in active ministry.
"It's very painful and it's very difficult, but it had to be done," Pilarczyk said Monday.
The archbishop said he will give the three priests — Thomas Brunner, David Kelley and Daniel Pater — and seven others who were already on leave the option of either voluntarily petitioning the Vatican to be stripped of their priesthoods or seeking a trial in church court that could result in their permanent defrocking.
He has not yet set a deadline for the priests to decide, and said he doesn't know how long the removal process could take.
Archdiocese spokesman Dan Andriacco said he expects most of the priests to voluntarily seek removal, but some may fight to retain their priesthoods.
Regardless of their choice, the priests' records will be sent to the Vatican, which will tell Pilarczyk how to proceed, the archbishop said. If church trials are required, they could be convened in Rome or Cincinnati.
In the cases of two elderly priests — Francis Massarella, 87, and John Berning, 96 — the Vatican could allow them to remain as inactive priests "in a state of suspended animation called lifetime of prayer and penance," Pilarczyk said.
Stuart Dupras, founder of the Dayton chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said Pilarczyk's action was a partial victory for victims, but the past coverup of abuse by the archdiocese has allowed most of the priests to avoid criminal prosecution because the statute of limitations has expired on their offenses.
"It's too little, too late," Dupras said. "Granted, they're getting them out, but it's very slow, very tedious, and chances are these people will never get jail time."
With the board's review of their cases looming, Brunner, Kelley and Pater recently stepped down from their last assignments. While on leave, they may not celebrate the sacraments or present themselves as priests.
The three are among five priests restored to the ministry a decade or more ago after archdiocese officials substantiated allegations by victims that the priests sexually abused them as minors. The other two priests — Lawrence Strittmatter and Francis Massarella — are already on leave.
Five other priests in the archdiocese, which serves 500,000 Catholics in 19 counties, also have substantiated abuse in their pasts and face possible removal. They are Keith Albrecht, Berning, Thomas Hopp, Kenneth Schoettmer and Richard Unwin.
The review board hasn't yet taken up the case of the Rev. Thomas Kuhn because he is still under investigation by the Montgomery County prosecutor's office, Pilarczyk said. Kuhn resigned a year ago as pastor of St. Henry Church in Miami Twp. amid a sheriff's investigation. He has not been criminally charged.
The mostly lay board did a "paper review" of the priests' records including victims' statements and psychological reports, but members did not question victims or the priests at its meeting Friday, Pilarczyk said.
Under the archdiocese's old rules, abusive priests who underwent counseling and agreed never to be alone with children could be restored to ministry without their abuse being publicly known or reported by the archdiocese to local authorities.
But the "zero-tolerance" policy approved last year by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in the wake of nationwide scandals requires permanent removal of any priest with a history of abuse.
Pilarczyk, who voted in favor of the zero-tolerance policy last year, said it was necessary because of "a change in local atmosphere — what people tolerated in 1980 they would not tolerate in 2002. We had to respond to the sensitivities of the people."
Also, he said, "We have learned a lot since then about the harm this causes to victims, an immense amount of damage."
Pater, 50, resigned recently from a diplomatic post with the Vatican in India. In 1995, the archdiocese settled a lawsuit by a woman who said Pater, then associate minister of St. Charles Borromeo Church in Kettering, seduced her when she was 14.
Brunner, 55, resigned last week as pastor of Troy's St. Patrick parish in anticipation of being forced out by Pilarczyk. He was found to have sexually abused high school girls while working in Cincinnati in the late 1970s and mid 1980s.
Earlier this month, five Cincinnati men sued the archdiocese and Pilarczyk, claiming that Kelley abused them as boys from 1979 to 1982, when Kelley was serving as a priest in the Cincinnati area. After counseling, Kelley was placed at St. Christopher Catholic Church in Vandalia from 1984 to 1987.
Pilarczyk acknowledged it will take time for the Catholic church to heal from the wave of priest sex abuse scandals, but said church people can eventually repair the damage "by doing what the Lord has called us to do — by being good people, good priests and good bishops."
Contact Tom Beyerlein at 225-2264 or tbeyerlein@DaytonDailyNews.com.
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