Cincinnati Pleas Could Influence Other Cases

By David Briggs
Cleveland Plain Dealer [Cincinnati OH]
November 21, 2003

A criminal plea entered by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati in the clergy sex abuse scandal may embolden prosecutors elsewhere in the country and give greater leverage to victims in civil cases, church observers said yesterday.

"For the first time in this country, a diocese . . . is going to be held to account criminally," said Jeffrey Anderson, a St. Paul, Minn., attorney who has handled more than 500 clergy abuse cases. "I think it will inspire other prosecutors who have been timid and reluctant and hesitant" to take on the Catholic Church.

Anderson's comments came after the Archdiocese of Cincinnati pleaded no contest and was found guilty of five counts of failure to report allegations of sex abuse, incurring $10,000 in fines for the five misdemeanors.

Anderson and other advocates for victims said they hoped officials in Cleveland and elsewhere would reopen their investigations. But Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill Mason said yesterday that he did not plan further action.

"We did our own work, we presented the information to a grand jury and we got our results," Mason said. "Unless we come up with some new information, we're done."

Mason launched a seven-month investigation into the diocese that ended in December 2002. The investigation resulted in child sexual abuse charges against one priest and six diocesan employees. It also produced evidence that more than 1,000 people were victims of sexual abuse. There were accusations against 496 possible sexual offenders, of whom 145 were priests. Mason has said that many of those priests avoided indictments only because the time for charging them had expired.

The Plain Dealer and other media filed requests to examine the files, but Mason has asked Common Pleas Judge Brian Corrigan to preserve a veil of secrecy over 50,000 investigative documents, with the exception of limited releases to the diocese and appropriate public service agencies. Lawyers for the diocese, meanwhile, have argued in court documents that all of Mason's investigative files should remain forever sealed.

Corrigan said yesterday that a ruling on the requests was unlikely before February.

Robert Tayek, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, said it was not appropriate for the Diocese of Cleveland to comment on the Cincinnati case because it was a local matter for that region.

However, William Crosby, a Cleveland attorney who has filed some two dozen civil sex abuse lawsuits against the diocese here, said he hopes the courage shown in Cincinnati will give Northeast Ohio officials the backbone to demand that records compiled in the grand jury investigation be opened.

People have the right to know the extent of the abuse problem in the church, he said.

"We haven't had the political will in Cleveland to mandate disclosure," he said.

Anderson said he expected the sentencing in Cincinnati to also be helpful in civil cases by influencing public opinion and increasing awareness of the church's role in the scandal.

David Gibson, author of a new book from Harper SanFrancisco entitled "The Coming Catholic Church: How the Faithful Are Shaping a New American Catholicism," said the effect of the pleas is going to be largely symbolic, with many prosecutors around the country still facing both political and practical obstacles in bringing criminal charges against dioceses.

"All that said, this is a huge development," Gibson said. "Now, the Catholic Church in Ohio has a criminal record."

Plain Dealer Reporter James F. McCarty contributed to this story.

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