Church May Face More Woes

By Kimball Perry
Cincinnati Post [Cincinnati OH]
Downloaded November 20, 2003

When attorneys for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati walk into court at 3:30 today and, as expected, cut a deal with prosecutors that results in the organization being convicted of crime and sentenced to pay a fine, it should end the local criminal investigation into the church.

But it may fuel even more legal battles for the archdiocese.

"Holy mackerel!" attorney Konrad Kircher said Wednesday when told the archdiocese is expected to be convicted of a crime relating to a possible cover-up by church officials of allegations that minors were abused by employees of the organization.

Kircher, who represents 37 clients suing the archdiocese and priests for not reporting allegations of sexual abuse, said he was surprised on one level by the report of a guilty plea today.

"From a practical standpoint, how can they admit criminally that they failed to report crimes when they deny it in civil cases?" Kircher said.

Attorneys for the archdiocese, archdiocese spokesman Dan Andriacco and Hamilton County prosecutors refused comment Wednesday.

The sides have agreed to meet this afternoon before Common Pleas Court Judge Richard Niehaus to enter a plea that is expected to resolve the 18-month fight Hamilton County prosecutors have had with the archdiocese.

Much of the battle has been over what church documents the archdiocese should open to prosecutors trying to determine whether the organization covered up or didn't report allegations of priests and other employees sexually abusing children.

The way the case has been handled brutally demonstrates how Catholic churches have dealt with such accusations, Kircher said.

"The church refuses to deal with this and fights it until someone reaches the cathedral door. The prosecutor reached the cathedral door," Kircher said, upset that the church could resolve criminal charges by paying a small fine.

Attorney Stan Chesley agreed.

"They want to pay a minimal fine and have it go away," Chesley said Wednesday.

"I've represented people in Fernald and Beverly Hills and I've never had (victims) harmed worse than they have been by these cases. The church needs to take responsibility."

Chesley represented victims who sued the Diocese of Covington claiming a cover-up and were awarded $5.2 million in a settlement. He represents other plaintiffs in a class-action suit pending in Boone County, Ky., against the diocese.

Some of the Hamilton County civil suits filed against the archdiocese by accusers have been thrown out by judges who said the claims weren't reported quickly enough to remain legally valid.

"That's crap. Pardon me, but that's crap," Chesley said. "That's obscene to raise a statute of limitations defense on this. These are human beings.

"This is not a coincidence that it is happening in northern Kentucky and Cincinnati. It's been going on for 50 years. And we caught them."

Kircher said a downside of today's plea is that "unfortunately, we won't be able to look at the level of (possible) crimes that may be in those documents."

He vowed, though, that he would continue his efforts to have those records opened for the lawsuits.

"That fight's not over yet," he said.

Kircher, who filed three more lawsuits Wednesday against the archdiocese and priests accused of sexually abusing children, said he hopes the church's plea today signals a change in how the archdiocese is responding to the allegations against it and some of its priests.

"Dioceses around the country are owning up to it," he said. "Cincinnati is eventually going to have to do that."

After a brief, private meeting Wednesday between prosecutors and archdiocese employees in Niehaus' chambers, the sides agreed to bypass the grand jury process and present the case today as a "plea to information."

A representative of the archdiocese has to be in court to enter the plea, either guilty or, more likely, no contest, that is expected to result in a conviction and fine.

One possibility of the charge the archdiocese will face is failure to report a crime, a fourth-degree misdemeanor with a maximum corporate fine of $2,000.

"No person, knowing that a felony has been or is being committed, shall knowingly fail to report such information to law enforcement authorities," is how the crime is defined under Ohio law.

Kircher said although he considered an archdiocese plea in the criminal case contradictory to the church's insistence of its innocence in the lawsuits, the criminal plea will have no impact in the civil cases if it is no contest.

That's because no contest pleas in criminal actions cannot be admitted as evidence in civil cases, he said. In no-contest pleas, defendants do not admit guilt but acknowledge there is enough evidence for a conviction

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