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  3 Women Say Pilla Reneged
Abuse-Settlement Terms Unfulfilled, They Assert; Diocese Asks for Patience

By Colette M. Jenkins
Beacon Journal [Cleveland OH]
July 21, 2005

Three women who allege they were abused in the mid-1960s by a priest at Akron's now-closed St. Mary High School criticized Bishop Anthony M. Pilla on Wednesday for not keeping his promises.

The women -- Colleen Hager of Charlotte, N.C.; Terri Heinzen of Russellville, Ark., and Sharon Barrett of Akron -- held a news conference outside the offices of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland to disclose details of a settlement they reached with diocesan officials two years ago.

They said Pilla failed to apologize and make disclosures about the priest whom they accused of sex abuse.

"Just as much as we werenaive back in the 1960s when we were molested, we were naive to believe that Bishop Pilla would give us the apology that he promised," said Barrett, 58, of Akron. "The diocese promised us in 2003 that they would give us a public apology and send us a written letter of apology, and they never did.

"I just don't think it's right that this priest is able to hide because the diocese won't make his name public," Barrett said. "It makes me angry to know that there are priests out there who have caused so much pain and the diocese is covering for them, just to save face."

The women are among five victims whose lawyer, Jeff Anderson, mediated a settlement with the diocese for the abuse they allege they suffered in the mid-1960s by the then-Rev. John O. Jacoby, who taught religion at the all-girls high school, which later merged with St. Vincent High.

Anderson alleged that Jacoby "used his collar as a source and shield to gain access to young girls." The lawyer said he has interviewed six women who accuse Jacoby of sexually abusing them "while they were teens and he was a priest. He was known to be an offender because two of these women reported it back then, and the diocese did nothing but transfer him to other parishes.

"The actions of this priest are morally reprehensible and the actions of the diocese are equally shameful," said Anderson, a St. Paul, Minn., lawyer who has handled hundreds of lawsuits by abuse victims around the country since the sex-abuse scandal erupted in the Roman Catholic Church in 2002.

Jacoby resigned from the priesthood in 1984. Anderson said Jacoby is now married and lives in Seminole, Fla.

Jacoby did not return phone calls requesting comment.

He told the Associated Press he would not comment on the allegations.

Diocese's response

Diocesan spokesman Robert Tayek, in response to the news conference, said the diocese is committed to helping victims of sexual abuse.

"Matters related to this mediation are still being addressed. Patience on behalf of the parties involved is appreciated, with the realization that these matters can take some time," Tayek said in a prepared statement. "The Diocese of Cleveland is committed to outreach to victims of sexual abuse and education awareness and encourages prayer for victims of all sexual abuse."

Neither Anderson nor Barrett would disclose the amount of the monetary compensation that the five women received. Barrett and Anderson insisted that failure of diocesan officials to honor the nonmonetary promises is indicative of a culture of secrecy that continues to allow the cover-up of abuse allegations.

The criticism of Pilla came a day after he testified in a lawsuit in which the diocese is accused of defamation. In his testimony, Pilla said that he twice reassigned a priest who had allegedly sexually assaulted a child.

Anderson said the timing of the news conference had nothing to do with the bishop's testimony Tuesday in the civil case, filed by abuse accuser Christopher Kodger.

Kodger and his parents allege that the diocese falsely stated that they supported the reassignment of the priest he accuses, the Rev. James Mulica.

Anderson said the women planned to go public about a month ago, not knowing that the bishop would be testifying in another sex-abuse-related case.

Other promises at issue

In addition to the public and private apologies, Anderson said, Pilla has reneged on promises to notify St. Mary High alumnae of the allegations against Jacoby, to have a healing Mass for victims, to place a letter in Jacoby's file stating that he could never be a priest again, to request that the Vatican make Jacoby a layman, and to allow the women involved in the mediation to work with diocesan staffers on abuse-prevention programs.

Barrett, who graduated from St. Mary's in 1965, said Jacoby raped her when she was 16 after she had confessed that she had allowed a boy to touch her. She said Jacoby comforted her, told her she needed to have some fun, and took her to a drive-in movie on Waterloo Road, where she said he raped her.

He convinced her that no one would believe her if she told. She said Jacoby continued to get permission from her parents to see her and assaulted her at least five times -- always at the drive-in.

Barrett said she never told her mother, who died 13 years ago. But in 1985, she told her father, who confirmed that he wouldn't have believed her in the 1960s.

"Back then, the priest had the confidence of our parents. But my healing started when I told my dad," Barrett said. "When we identified (Jacoby) today as a child molester, it was healing. We don't go to church anymore because of what happened to us, but I'll bet he does. He's probably going to Mass and having Communion, after all that he's done.

"He took our lives back then," Barrett said. "But we've got them back, and now we want to help others know that they can speak out and that they have support."

 
 

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