Diocese Aided Ousted Worker's Family
He Was Accused of Molesting Girls
By Mike Tobin
Plain Dealer [Cleveland OH]
March 31, 2007
Years after church deacon Jerry Bals was accused of molesting teenage girls, the Cleveland Catholic Diocese began sending money to his home.
The diocese said it paid $800 a month to Bals' wife to help raise her children.
But she was not alone. Bals lived in the Eastlake home at the time, according to court records.
The revelation outraged two of six women who sued the diocese and Bals in 1994. The lawsuit was resolved with a confidential settlement, said Mary Brigid, who told police Bals repeatedly groped her between 1972 and 1974.
"Jerry was in the home at the time, so it's like they were paying him, taking care of him," Brigid said.
"It's another example of how the church is taking care of the clergy but not taking care of the people.
"It's really disgusting."
Bals worked as a guidance counselor and librarian at Lake Catholic High School and was an ordained deacon at St. Justin Martyr Church in Eastlake. He left the school in 1985 to work as a librarian at St. Ignatius High School and, later, Eastlake North High.
In 1993, Bals was indicted in Lake County Common Pleas Court on charges of gross sexual imposition and felonious assault.
The charges were filed after several women came forward with stories about Bals calling them into his office while they were students at Lake Catholic in the 1970s and molesting them.
One woman said that while she was a student, Bals frequently called her into his office to pray and read the Bible together. When they were finished, Bals would passionately kiss her, fondle her and place her hand on his genitals, the woman said in a deposition.
Charges against Bals were dropped in exchange for Bals giving up his teaching credentials and promising never to work with minors again. At the time, prosecutors said they were satisfied with the settlement because it would have been difficult to prosecute the case nearly 20 years later.
Bals was stripped of his role as deacon and forbidden from working for the diocese.
In June 2000, the diocese began paying $800 to Renee Bals, the wife of Jerry Bals. The payments were made monthly until April 2003, for a total payment of $27,200. The diocese reported the payments to the IRS, diocesan attorney Stephen Sozio said in a court document filed this month.
Sozio characterized the payments as "a stipend to a woman with eight children who was, through no fault of her own, in dire financial straits."
The payments came to light as part of the criminal case against former diocesan employees Joseph Smith and Anton Zgoznik, who are accused of stealing $784,000 from the church through an elaborate kickback scheme.
Lawyers for Smith and Zgoznik say the diocese had hundreds of hidden accounts used to move money throughout the diocese. They have asked U.S. District Judge Ann Aldrich to force the diocese to turn over information about the accounts and other transactions, including payments to Bals.
The diocese opposed the request and adamantly denied the existence of secret accounts. The payments to Bals have nothing to do with the alleged kickback scheme, Sozio said.
"One of the missions of any religious organization, including the Catholic Church, is to assist persons in need," Sozio wrote. "In the case of Mrs. Bals, her husband, who at one time was a deacon in the Catholic Church, engaged in wrongful conduct for which he was prosecuted in Lake County. Because of his conduct, he lost his license to teach.
"Mrs. Bals, the mother of eight children, suffered significant financial hardship as a result of her husband's wrongdoing," Sozio wrote. "The diocese assisted Mrs. Bals financially for a period of time."
Renee Bals filed for divorce from Jerry Bals in June 2004, about one year after the payments stopped. In court papers filed in that case, Renee Bals said the family had eight children, but seven of them were adults by 2004. The family owned three dwellings - two homes in Eastlake and a condo in Ashtabula.
Renee Bals said in the court documents that she was a homemaker in 2004 with no income. Jerry Bals was retired with an annual income of $32,000 from pensions, Social Security and rental income, she said.
Jerry Bals moved out of the Eastlake home he shared with his wife in June 2004, one week before she filed for divorce, according to court documents.
"It's like the church just kept paying him," Brigid said. "They didn't pay his salary, so they just put it through Renee."
Another woman who accused Bals of molesting her, who asked not to be identified, called the payments "just one more slap in the face."
"What about helping all of us plaintiffs at that time?" the woman said.
"So [Bals] was able to go back to the diocese and get money from them."
Renee Bals withdrew her petition for divorce in 2005. Reached at home, the family declined to discuss the payments.
Smith's lawyers said in their motion that the payments were approved by Smith's supervisor, the Rev. John Wright, who served as chief financial and legal officer until Smith succeeded him.
Sozio, the lawyer for the diocese, said other people besides Wright were "involved in the decision to provide temporary assistance to Mrs. Bals."
Diocesan officials declined to say who else was involved.
Diocesan spokesman Robert Tayek said that the payments were not intended to help Jerry Bals and that there is no evidence that he benefited from them.
"I hope the payments to Renee Bals were not misconstrued since they were an act of kindness made to someone in a destitute situation," Tayek said.
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