Rev. Patrick O'Connor Cleared of Sexual Abuse Claim, Is Reinstated
O'Connor Cleared, 2 Others Defrocked

By David Briggs
Plain Dealer
December 4, 2007

The Cleveland Catholic Diocese has reinstated a priest accused of sexually abusing a minor, the first time such action has been taken since the U.S. Catholic Church adopted a zero-tolerance policy on abuse.

The Rev. Patrick J. O'Connor, on leave since September 2003, was cleared by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and reinstated in late September, the diocese said.

O'Connor has been appointed chaplain to the Sisters of the Most Holy Trinity and Our Lady of Lourdes Shrine, both in Euclid. In addition, two diocesan priests accused of abuse have been defrocked. The Vatican announced that it granted the requests of Gary D. Berthiaume and J. Brendan McNulty to leave the priesthood.

The death of the Rev. Raymond Bartnikowski, another accused cleric, on Nov. 16 leaves 11 diocesan priests in administrative limbo as they await action on the abuse allegations against them, the diocese said.

In June 2002, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops declared that no priest who committed even one act of sexual abuse of a minor could return to ministry. Since the spring of 2002, the Cleveland diocese has placed 21 priests on leave after finding what it said was sufficient evidence to support allegations of sexual abuse. Some of the men have died; others have been placed in restricted ministries.

O'Connor, 49, was accused of sexually abusing a minor in the late 1980s while he was an associate at St. Joseph Church in Cuyahoga Falls. The Diocesan Review Board determined the allegation was credible, and O'Connor was placed on leave from a teaching position at Borromeo Seminary in Wickliffe.

The diocese said a subsequent investigation by the review board revealed no abuse. The case was sent to the Vatican, which concluded that O'Connor should be allowed "to exercise priestly ministry," the diocese said.

O'Connor declined to comment Monday on his case.

The Vatican's defrocking of Berthiaume and McNulty means the men cannot function "in any capacity as a priest anywhere, with the exception of offering absolution to the dying," the diocese said.

McNulty, 59, the former pastor of SS. Philip and James Parish in Cleveland, was suspended in the fall of 2003 amid allegations he sexually abused several brothers in a family he befriended in the 1970s.

Berthiaume, 65, was accused of abusing minors at Ascension Parish on Puritas Avenue in Cleveland's West Park neighborhood.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:, 216-999-4812.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.