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  Offensive Portraits
Pictures of Abusive Priests Remain in Prominent Spots

By Bill Frogameni
Toledo City Paper [Toledo OH]
August 9, 2004

Sexual abuse victims say the Toledo Catholic Diocese refuses to show real contrition for its pedophile clerics. Victims say they’ve asked the diocese to tell parishioners about abusive clerics and to remove public tributes to these men, but the diocese is uncooperative. In fact, large pictures of known pedophile priests still exist in diocesan churches.

According to Claudia Vercellotti, Toledo co-leader of the Survivor’s Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), other such tributes to disgraced priests exist in the diocese as well, tributes SNAP has long asked the diocese to remove.

"What message does it send to victims, victims’ families and parishioners, when you walk into church and see a large picture of a known pedophile priest still hanging there?" Vercellotti said.

Noneconomic reparations for victims came into focus recently when the diocese failed to carry out part of a legal agreement it reached with Bill Claar, a survivor of clerical sexual abuse. Claar, abused as a boy by the Rev. Bernard Kokocinski in the mid-1970s at a Fremont church, reached agreement with the diocese that provided a statement be placed in all the church bulletins of the parishes Kokocinski served. The statement admitted Kokocinski was removed from ministry amid credible allegations of "sexual misconduct" with a minor and that he would not seek reinstatement.

The statement was to run concurrently at all of Kokocinski’s ex-parishes but only ran at some. Eventually, the parishes ran the notice after Claar expressed outrage and other media outlets took notice. The diocese attributed the incident to a simple mistake, but Claar, who also received a monetary settlement, said he believes it was intentional. "It would have been easy for them to comply," said Claar from his home in Alaska. "It wasn’t about money.

I was financially set before the settlement. It was about being vindicated and reaching out to other victims."

One victim is Jon Schoonmaker, local co-leader of SNAP along with Vercellotti. Schoonmaker first contacted the diocese about the Rev. Joseph Schmelzer in the early ’90s, but Schmelzer continued working in ministry until early 2003 when he was finally removed after the diocese deemed Schoonmaker’s abuse allegations credible. While Schmelzer’s case has been pending "final substantiation" in Rome, Schoonmaker took legal action. Among Schoonmaker's demands was a provision that the diocese notify parishioners at all Schmelzer’s former parishes that Schmelzer has been removed from ministry amid credible abuse allegations. In spite of offering Schoonmaker money and agreeing to a similar request for Bill Claar, the diocese only agreed to notify the parishioners at two of Schmelzer’s former parishes. Schoonmaker hasn’t accepted the diocese offer.

Another victim, Connie Davis, settled with the diocese this spring. Davis said she was abused by the late Monsignor Michael Doyle when she was between the ages of 8 and 12 when she lived at St. Anthony’s Orphanage. Now 57, Davis said the diocese pressured her into settling for $4,500 and wouldn’t consider what she calls a critical demand: Specifically, Davis wanted the diocese to remove the tributes to Monsignor Doyle adorning a prominent wing of the Catholic Center where the bishop works. "When you go in their parking lot," said Davis, "you see they named half the building ‘Monsignor Doyle Hall.’ His name’s on the building in huge lettering." Inside the Catholic Center, there’s also a large portrait of Doyle. When asked why it agreed to a monetary settlement with Davis but refused to remove the tributes to Doyle, the diocese didn’t comment.

While most prominent, the tributes to Monsignor Doyle aren’t unique: Portraits of notorious priests hang just outside the worship area at two Toledo churches.

In South Toledo’s Our Lady of Perpetual Help, there’s a prominent picture of Robert Thomas. Thomas was 53 in 1984 when he was arrested at Southwyck Mall while performing a sex act with a 16-year-old boy. Thomas is currently barred from ministry in Toledo.

At Christ the King church in West Toledo, there’s a prominent picture of Neil Lucas who was removed from ministry in December 2002 for sexually abusing minor boys. According to reports at the time, the diocese said Lucas didn’t deny the allegations.

 
 

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