Ex-Teacher: Diocese Knew of Abuse;
Says Auxiliary Bishop Was Told of Incidents with Parma Priest
By James F. McCarty and David Briggs
Plain Dealer [Cleveland, Ohio]
March 28, 2002
Before denying financial help to a woman who said a Parma priest sexually abused her in the late 1960s, A. James Quinn, auxiliary bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, said the church could not corroborate her story.
But a teacher at St. Francis de Sales School at that time said this week that concerned parents personally told Quinn more than 30 years ago about nearly identical allegations involving the same priest.
When the diocese did nothing, the former teacher said, several faculty members called a parents meeting in the school cafeteria one Friday night in 1969 to discuss how to protect the children from the late Monsignor Edward Kickel.
Meanwhile, responding to the woman's account of the alleged abuse in Parma, nearly a dozen women called or wrote to The Plain Dealer this week asserting that they, too, had been abused by Kickel as schoolgirls during the 1950s and '60s. At least 200 people attended the Friday meeting in 1969, said Cathy Dietz.
Dietz was a second-grade teacher at the school and one of the organizers of the meeting.
Initially, some of the parents were angry and offended at the accusations leveled against Kickel, Dietz recalled.
But then, one after another, several mothers stood up to tearfully describe how they, too, had been victimized by Kickel years earlier when they were students there, Dietz said.
"It would have been impossible for the diocese not to have known about it," Dietz said.
"Some of the nuns were crying," added Florence Rezek, 72, who said she also attended the meeting, although she recalled the attendance as being closer to 100 people. By that time, Kickel had become known around the school as "The Feeler," Rezek said.
Quinn, who was diocesan chancellor at the time, said this week through a spokesman that he had "no recollection of anyone coming forward on anything relating to Monsignor Kickel, or any kind of abuse at all at St. Francis de Sales."
Quinn also said he doesn't recall hearing of a parents' meeting about Kickel at the school.
The Rev. Joseph McNulty, who served at St. Francis de Sales from 1969 to 1972, said he also was not aware of either the meeting or of any abuse allegations against Kickel.
Dietz, now a counselor, is a leading candidate to serve on the diocesan task force created this week to study the church's handling of sex-abuse cases, said William Denihan, the task force head. She would not name the three women who she said met with Quinn in 1969.
She said the only obvious result of the parents' meeting was that the pastor barred Kickel from hearing confessions and teaching religion classes to elementary school students.
Kickel was the same priest whom Suzanne Carrington, now of Santa Rosa, Calif., complained about to the Cleveland Diocese two years ago. She asked the diocese to help her pay for the psychological counseling she has been getting to cope with the abuse.
Quinn turned her down, saying the diocese couldn't find any facts to support her claim.
Asked about that decision last week, the diocese issued a statement saying it had interviewed two nuns who were teachers at St. Francis de Sales School. Neither could verify Carrington's allegations that Kickel had repeatedly stuck his hand up her dress during religion class.
Several other alleged victims of Kickel came forward this week, however, saying they or their loved ones had been abused in almost identical fashion.
"I know [Carrington] was telling the truth because the same sort of thing happened to me and my sisters," said Carol, now 56, of Lakewood, who said she was 12 when Kickel asked to touch her breasts. Carol asked that only her first name be used.
Yvonne Grosse, 59, of Cleveland, remembers vividly her grade-school years at St. Francis de Sales - and the humiliation she and others endured in the late 1950s and 1960s at the hands of Kickel.
Kickel would come into the classroom and the teacher would leave, Grosse recalled. The priest would then ask the girls to come to the front of the class to read from their religion texts.
Hidden by a desk from the rest of the students, Kickel would reach under the girls' dresses and molest them, Grosse and other alleged victims said.
Some of the girls would shy away and refuse to go near the groping monsignor, several said.
Others would remain frozen on their feet, not knowing how to react to the violation, they said.
"The desk was huge," Grosse said. "Nobody could see what was going on as long as you stood where he wanted you to stand."
Other alleged victims said Kickel always had a jar full of candy on his office desk in the rectory and would often try to molest young girls there. Afterward, he would warn the girls not to tell their teacher or parents, several said.
The stories were similar to those shared on that Friday night in 1969 in the school cafeteria, Dietz said.
If it took 33 years for the allegations to become public, she said, it might be because everyone followed the instructions of the late Rev. Paul Lehner, then the pastor at St. Francis de Sales.
While acknowledging that Kickel had "a problem," Lehner ordered everyone present to remain silent about what had been discussed, Dietz said.
"If anyone told the media what was said in the meeting," she quoted Lehner as saying, "they would be guilty of a mortal sin and go to hell."
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