Cincinnati Archdiocese Found Guilty of Cover-up
By Bill Sloat and T.C. Brown
Cleveland Plain Dealer [Cincinnati OH]
November 21, 2003
Cincinnati Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk admitted in court yesterday that for years, church officials in southwest Ohio illegally covered up sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests.
A judge immediately found the archdiocese guilty of failing to re port its crimes and said church leaders had placed self-pres- ervation ahead of their moral duty to minister to the vic tims.
"Do you under stand you . . . ad mitted facts that con stituted guilt?" Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Richard Niehaus asked the archbishop.
"Right," said Pilarc zyk, the spiritual leader of 500,000 Catholics in 19 coun ties.
Yesterday's court action marked the third time diocesan officials in the United States have avoided further court action by making arrangements with prosecutors in sexual abuse investigations. It was the first time, though, that a bishop or archbishop entered a plea that resulted in a finding of guilt.
The archbishop pleaded no contest to five misdemeanor counts of failing to report felonies. In a no-contest plea, defendants do not admit guilt but acknowledge there is enough evidence for a conviction.
The plea came after a sudden round of negotiations this week between church leaders and Hamilton County prosecutors, who were preparing to launch a grand jury investigation into the church's concealment of sex crimes against minors.
Niehaus fined the church $10,000 - the maximum allowed under Ohio law.
"I believe that a religious organization has lost its way," Niehaus told the archbishop, who stood impassively between his two criminal defense lawyers.
Pilarczyk wore a black clerical suit with a Roman collar and at times fidgeted with a gold cross and chain around his neck as he waited to stand before the judge.
After the plea, he tried to slip out through the courtroom's back door. But news photographers quickly spotted him and trailed him down a courthouse corridor shooting pictures until he boarded an elevator.
Officials did not disclose how many Cincinnati-area children had been molested, and they declined to name priests involved in the incidents, which took place in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
At that time, authorities said yesterday, the archdiocese did not have any method in place to notify the police of a suspected sex crime. Instead, church leaders investigated incidents internally and kept the details to themselves.
In a late afternoon news conference, Pilarczyk said he would not resign because "I serve at the pleasure of the pope." Asked about his future credibility, Pilarczyk said time would tell. "I cannot make anybody find me credible."
Pilarczyk said he took full responsibility for not reporting the priests' actions and he apologized to victims and asked them to forgive the church.
"I express my sorrow and shame at the suffering that priests and other church employees have inflicted on young parishioners," Pilarczyk said.
"Victims, please forgive us and help us to see to it that what you have suffered will never happen again."
Mark VanderLaan, the archdiocese's defense lawyer, insisted at the news conference, there was no cover-up.
"Failure to report a crime is just that, it's not some sort of concerted effort to conceal," he said.
As part of the plea agreement, the church said it would establish a $3 million fund to compensate victims of child abuse. A three-member commission will be set up to administer the fund in the Hamilton County prosecutor's office.
Niehaus said he could not send anyone to jail because only the archdiocese admitted its criminal conduct.
No individuals were charged in the cover-up, which involved molestations that took place between 1978 and 1982.
Konard Kircher, a lawyer who represents 67 people suing the archdiocese over sex abuse allegations, said some of his clients considered the plea bargain a slap on the wrist.
"It does bother some of my clients," Kircher said.
"That's the downside of this plea. But I'm hoping this is the beginning of a new phase. I hope they are done hurting and hiding."
Under Ohio law, the no-contest plea in the criminal action cannot be admitted as evidence in any of the lawsuits.
Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen defended the plea deal.
"There was no applicable felony we could find that would apply to the facts of this case. There is nothing more we could have gotten than we got," Allen said.
He said the church turned over more than 10,000 pages of documents after dropping objections to releasing them.
Church lawyers had claimed the documents were protected from disclosure under the doctrine of attorney-client privilege.
Allen said the names of five priests showed up in the documents involving incidents going back 25 years. He would not reveal the names of the priests and said none are active in the ministry today.
He said four church officials - again, he would not name them - had been interviewed under oath, and that they had no knowledge of any more recent sex-abuse allegations that had not been disclosed to police.
"We are satisfied that there is no priest serving in the archdiocese who has a substantiated case of abuse against them," Allen said.
Pilarczyk said he never dreamed a bishop would have to make a public apology like he did yesterday.
The victims' fund, which will come from money in the archdiocese, will be established early next year.
"I realize no amount of money can take away the pain and suffering of those who have been injured by sexual abuse," Pilarczyk said.
"I hope that it will make it easier for those who have been injured to come to forgive those representatives of the church who have harmed them."
Barbara Blaine, founder and president of Surviors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said the plea agreement was extremely disappointing.
"We know from victims there are other incidents of abuse," Blaine said.
"There is no accountability and the church got to enter into a private deal."
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