Archdiocese Fined in Abuse Coverup
Cincinnati Plea Deal Includes Victims' Compensation Fund

By Alan Cooperman
Washington Post [Cincinnati OH]
November 21, 2003

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati pleaded no contest yesterday to five misdemeanor counts of failing to report sexual abuse of children, becoming the first diocese in the nation to be convicted of a crime in connection with the scandal over sexual misconduct by priests.

Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk, flanked by church lawyers, entered the plea in a deal with prosecutors that also requires the archdiocese to set up a $3 million compensation fund for abuse victims.

An Ohio judge imposed the maximum fine of $2,000 on each count, for a total of $10,000, and sternly rebuked Pilarczyk.

"I believe this is an extremely tragic event," Common Pleas Court Judge Richard Niehaus said. As a lifelong Catholic, he added, he was disappointed that church officials placed "self-preservation" above their "moral duty" to report serious crimes against children.

"I know that you aren't the only one that has done wrong," Niehaus told the 69-year-old archbishop before a packed courtroom. "But I believe everybody has the duty to follow the law."

Pilarczyk declined to comment after the proceeding, and the archdiocese's communications office did not return phone calls yesterday afternoon.

The plea agreement avoids the indictment of any individuals after two grand jury investigations over the past 18 months. Church officials also reached a deal Monday in which they turned over disputed documents to the grand jury, but the records remain under seal and cannot be made public, Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney Michael K. Allen said.

Allen said in a telephone interview that the grand jury investigation was "extremely frustrating" because dozens of victims came forward with credible reports of abuse, but the statute of limitations prevented nearly all of their cases from being prosecuted.

He also said the archdiocese initially refused to cooperate with the investigation. "It was like pulling teeth until they found out we were serious about proceeding to a grand jury, and then they decided to cooperate," he said. "In the last two weeks, we had complete and total cooperation."

The plea of no contest means the archdiocese did not admit guilt but chose not to fight the charges. The judge then declared the archdiocese guilty of violating an Ohio statute requiring residents to report any knowledge of a felony. Under the plea agreement, the archdiocese pledged in the future to go beyond the letter of the law by reporting any allegation of child abuse.

"We're ecstatic that the archdiocese saw fit to plead no contest and be found guilty of the charges, because that finally, at long last, holds them accountable for their actions," Allen said.

No details of the abuse cases were made public, except that they were reported between 1978 and 1982 to church officials who failed to notify civil authorities. Allen said more information may emerge in civil lawsuits. About 80 lawsuits by alleged victims are pending against the archdiocese.

One of those plaintiffs, Christy Miller, 35, expressed mixed emotions about the plea agreement. "I think the prosecutors used every legal avenue they had and took what they could get," she said. "But I still feel the archdiocese is hiding under a veil of secrecy."

Several other dioceses have narrowly avoided criminal charges for their handling of sex abuse cases. Phoenix prosecutors said they had grounds to indict that city's former bishop, Thomas J. O'Brien, on charges of obstruction of justice. But instead, they reached an agreement in which he appointed independent administrators to handle abuse allegations and created a $600,000 compensation fund. Two weeks later, O'Brien was arrested in a fatal hit-and-run accident.

In New Hampshire, prosecutors settled for an admission by the diocese of Manchester that it could have faced a charge of child endangerment, along with an agreement to make public thousands of church documents on abuse cases. And in Massachusetts, prosecutors voiced frustration that they had no legal avenue to prosecute church officials despite evidence that more than 1,000 children had been abused in the archdiocese of Boston.


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