Area Man Says Bishop Won't Hear His Abuse Allegations
By David Yonke
November 16, 2018
At their meeting in Baltimore this week, America's Catholic bishops decided to delay a proposed vote on dealing with clerical sexual abuse.
The delay did not surprise Riley Kinn, a 51-year-old Fostoria man who said he has been trying for two years to talk to Toledo Bishop Daniel Thomas about allegations that a priest sexually abused him when he was a child.
"All I am asking is for Bishop Thomas to sit down with me for a short while and listen," said Kinn. "This is bigger than just one child being victimized. They say they want other victims to come forward, but why would they come forward if no one in the church will even listen to them?"
Thomas oversees the Toledo Catholic Diocese, which has more than 320,000 members in 19 counties across Northwest Ohio including Sandusky and Ottawa counties.
Seeks review board meeting
In addition to seeking a meeting with Thomas, Kinn has repeatedly asked for an opportunity to present his case in person before the Diocesan Review Board, a panel that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops established in all American dioceses after the clerical sexual abuse scandal erupted in Boston in 2002 and then spread across the nation and world.
The review boards are tasked with evaluating allegations of abuse by priests and determining whether the charges are credible.
"I call them a few times every week and ask for a meeting," Kinn said. "I leave messages saying the same thing on their voicemail and they never return my calls. I say, 'I'd like you to call me back. I'd like to ask some questions. I'd like to meet with you or at least talk to you by telephone'. They never return my calls."
|Riley Kinn of Fostoria holds a "letter to the faithful" from Toledo Bishop Daniel Thomas. Kinn has been requesting a meeting with the Catholic bishop to discuss allegations of sexual abuse by a Toledo priest when he was 13.|
The voicemail routine has almost become a joke, Kinn said with a shrug, but he is deadly serious about his allegations that a priest in the Toledo diocese, the Rev. Joseph Schmelzer, molested and raped him when Kinn was 13 years old.
Schmelzer was removed from public ministry on Feb. 19, 2007 by then-Toledo Bishop Leonard Blair, after the review board deemed that allegations of abuse made by other accusers were credible.
Kinn said he was an 84-pound rising eighth grader who ran track at St. Wendelin Catholic School in Fostoria when Schmelzer groomed him for abuse, then fondled, drugged and raped him in the church rectory.
The diocese's longtime Victim Assistance Coordinator, Frank DiLallo, told Kinn in a letter dated Dec. 12, 2017 that a church-appointed investigator had presented Kinn's case to the review board and the board found his allegations "not substantiated," and that the bishop accepted that finding.
'Prayer and penance'
DiLallo noted that Schmelzer had been removed from ministry and can no longer present himself as a priest in public, and that he "remains on a program of prayer and penance."
"The prayer and penance part — that doesn't do much for me," Kinn said. "I want more. I think he should be monitored. I think the neighbors should know about him, like the way the court system makes sex offenders register."
Fifteen years ago, the Diocesan Review Board also recommended that Schmelzer be monitored. In a 2003 letter to Blair, the board stated that Schmelzer posed a "risk ... to the members of the church and the community at large" and "the board recommends that the church continue to monitor the Rev. Schmelzer."
The board also urged "ongoing, specialized sexual offender treatment" for Schmelzer, and a "monitoring and accountability system that is financed by the church and overseen by an independent ecclesiastical board."
Kelly Donaghy, senior communications director for the Toledo diocese, said in an email response to questions from The News-Messenger that the church monitors all clerics "under supervision."
She outlined nine points in the process. including having the cleric report to the bishop on a regular basis; sign a written protocol "which sets forth the particulars applicable to him and his promise to abide by all such restrictions and conditions"; being restricted from being alone with anyone under the age of 18, or alone with groups of individuals who are under the age of 18; and undergoing periodic psychological and physical evaluations.
Kinn said Thursday night that he has never been told about the diocese's monitoring procedure and would like to talk to the bishop about it.
Claudia Vercellotti, coordinator of the Toledo chapter of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), said that in addition to monitoring Schmelzer, all parishes, schools and communities where the priest served and lived should be informed that he was barred from ministry over credible allegations of sexual abuse.
"Instead, like his predecessors, the bishop is turning the molester loose in a community and telling no one," Vercellotti said. "Why not notify people so that there's no secret?"
Kinn and Vercellotti are also calling for Schmelzer to be laicized, or removed from the priesthood, and taken off the church's payroll.
Still an ordained priest
Although Schmelzer is barred from public ministry, he remains ordained as a priest in the Roman Catholic Church.
Donaghy said Schmelzer is "not on the diocesan payroll," but does receive a "retirement earned benefit" and a monthly stipend "for sustenance and medical insurance."
Kinn said he first contacted the Toledo diocese about his alleged abuse in 2005 after claims of sexual molestation were made against Schmelzer when he was pastor of St. Mary's Parish in Van Wert.
"I wrote a letter to Frank DiLallo and to St. Mary's in Van Wert because the parishioners were having trouble believing Father Schmelzer could do this. I wrote and said, 'I'm sure Father Schmelzer may have been a great priest for your parish, but he did molest me and I believe it's possible he molested others.'"
That letter got no response, either from the parish or the diocese, Kinn said.
|Bishop Daniel Thomas of the Toledo Catholic Diocese closed an investigation into Riley Kinn's allegations of childhood sexual abuse by a priest, saying they were "not substantiated" according to church norms.|
He said he managed to keep memories of his childhood abuse bottled up for 35 years.
"I remembered exactly what happened, when it happened, where it happened. But I just told myself this is something I'm never going to mention to anyone in my life," Kinn said.
He said he suffered panic attacks, and only years later realized that they were reactions to the abuse.
"I was freaking out. My heart would start pounding. It was like the whole world was getting dark and was going to cave in on you. It was very scary," Kinn said.
Return to the rectory
He kept "pretending like it never happened," he said, until his job took him to the rectory at St. Wendelin Parish to install internet gear in the summer of 2015.
"I had done some work for the school and church before but I had never been in the rectory since eighth grade. I was installing some Wi-Fi equipment and I had to go upstairs," Kinn said, emotions rising as he recalled that day. "It just came to me: I wanted to see that bedroom again. I walked in, looked around, it was an empty room now but there was still a bed there. And I just lost it."
Standing in the priest's former bedroom, he was suddenly overwhelmed with memories that hit him like a nightmare in 3-D.
"I was just sobbing. There was snot coming out of my nose, my jaw was shaking. I left my tools there and got in my truck, drove out to the country to a place where there was no traffic, and I just cried, man. I had not cried like that since I was an adult. Maybe never."
He said he first met Schmelzer in the summer of 1980, between his seventh and eighth grade years at St. Wendelin Catholic School where the priest was the high school principal. (The Ohio Board of Education revoked Schmelzer's teaching license in 2002.)
Kinn said another student told him Schmelzer wanted to play tennis with him. He felt honored, special.
In ensuing conversations, Schmelzer appeared concerned for Kinn's welfare, persistently asking if everything was OK at home.
'A little bit vulnerable'
"He saw me as a little bit vulnerable. I didn't have much confidence. I was a lot smaller than the other kids physically," Kinn recalled. "He started counseling me and I began telling him things, even making them up, because I thought that's what he wanted to hear. I said my dad worked a lot, which was true, but he was a great dad. I just felt like I had to say something."
Schmelzer invited the teenager up to his bedroom in the rectory to see his record collection.
"I remember he had a Tom Petty album, back when you had albums. I thought this guy was really cool, I was honored that he took an interest in me," he said.
But the priest soon made him feel "very uncomfortable," Kinn said, including putting a hand on his thigh and just keeping it there.
"You just don't do that," Kinn said.
Within a short time Schmelzer was moving his hand over the teen's crotch and asked him to take his pants off.
"He tried to fondle me — which usually didn't work, because I wasn't attracted to men," Kinn said.
He said the priest touched and fondled him about six to eight times over the next few weeks.
Offered teen a beer
One day at the rectory Schmelzer offered him a beer, Kinn said.
"I jumped on that," he said. "He went into the kitchen, got a bottle of beer, and I drank maybe half of it. I don't know what was in there but he almost certainly put something in it. It knocked me out. And I don't remember what happened after that."
When he recovered he said his rectum was sore, there was some bleeding, and there were other signs that he had been sodomized.
Kinn fled from Schmelzer's room and didn't look back.
"He may have invited me back once more but he knew I was never going to come back there again. At the time, I never told anybody," he said.
After the painful memories flooded back in 2015, Kinn told his girl friend about the abuse and she advised him to tell his parents and to get counseling.
He did both.
"My dad asked me, 'Why didn't you tell me? I would have gone down there and done something.' But then he said, 'I probably wouldn't have been able to tell my dad, either'," Kinn said.
He contacted DiLallo and the Toledo diocese a few months later, and the diocese sent an investigator, Jim Couch, to Fostoria to hear his case.
After several meetings in person and a number of phone calls, Couch presented his findings to the review board.
Change in policy
Unlike in previous years, accusers today do not always get to testify before the Toledo diocese's review board.
Donaghy said board members decide "whether they want to meet with the accuser and/or the accused," and in Kinn's case "they chose not to meet in person with either but allow written statements to be given."
DiLallo notified Kinn in a letter last December that Thomas "has reviewed and thoroughly considered all items related to the accusation and investigation" and "has closed the investigation and has asked that I inform you that he has accepted the unanimous recommendation of the Review Board, which stated that the allegation made against Joseph Schmelzer was not substantiated" according to church norms.
Kinn was stunned. The dismissal left him with a whirlwind of questions, and he has been seeking answers ever since.
"Now, what does 'not substantiated mean? Do they not believe anything I said? Do they believe parts of it? What exactly does that mean?" Kinn asked.
But he has not been able to get an audience with the bishop or the review board. Except for a few phone calls with DiLallo early on, his only response has been letters from Victim Assistance Coordinator DiLallo.
Donaghy said Thursday that Kinn "has not made any formal request to meet with Bishop Thomas. To do that, he would need to make the request in writing."
But Kinn said a request was made in writing when his mother, Susan S. Kinn, wrote a letter dated January 28, 2018, asking Thomas "to meet with our son and have another review of this offense and allow Riley to tell his story and be heard by the appropriate people."
DiLallo mentioned in several of his letters to Kinn that Schmelzer "already has been removed from public ministry ... and will never be able to function again publicly as a priest," and said that was a "key factor" in the review board's decision.
'Severely restricted status'
In a letter last month, DiLallo wrote that "we know this priest should not be in ministry, and the Review
Board knows this."
He stated that Schmelzer "has been penalized to the full extent of the Bishop's authority" and that any investigation into Kinn's allegations "would not have changed Father Schmelzer's existing, severely restricted status."
Donaghy, in an email to The News-Messenger, said that, given Schmelzer's removal from ministry, "there was no further action to be taken ... the Diocese exercised its full authority in this regard."
Kinn said he understands that, but would like to talk about it with the bishop.
He was adamant that he is not out for money.
Kinn said he just wants resolution — and assurances that the church is protecting children.
"I don't want money. What I want is closure. I hope one day I can have some kind of forgiveness for the guy. I'm still struggling with that," he said.