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  New Allegation Puts Priest on Leave

By Dan Horn and Jennifer Edwards
Cincinnati Enquirer
June 10, 2002

A second former principal of Elder High School was suspended by Catholic church officials Sunday because of allegations of misconduct.

The Rev. Lawrence Strittmatter, Elder principal from 1970 to 1982, was placed on administrative leave from St. Albert the Great parish in Kettering after a former Elder student complained that he was sexually abused in the late 1970s.

Father Strittmatter is the third former Elder faculty member -- and the second former principal -- to face misconduct allegations this year.

The case also is significant because it involves a priest who was known by church officials to have a history of sexual misconduct.

Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk confirmed Sunday that Father Strittmatter is on the archdiocese's list of five priests who had kept their jobs despite past allegations of abuse.

The archbishop announced the list of five in March, but has previously refused to say who was on it.

He said Father Strittmatter is now being named and suspended from his duties because the church only recently learned of additional accusations involving another victim, who came forward last month.

"New allegations have come forward, allegations of behaviors that we did not know about before," Archbishop Pilarczyk told St. Albert parishioners Sunday.

"I apologize from the bottom of my heart to those who have been abused by Father Strittmatter."

Church officials say the most recent allegation was made last month when a former Elder student claimed in a phone call that Father Strittmatter had abused him in the late 1970s.

The first allegation was made in 1988 by another former Elder student who said he was abused in the late 1970s.

Church officials responded to the 1988 allegation by removing Father Strittmatter from his job as pastor at Our Lady of Victory in Delhi Township and sending him to an undisclosed treatment center.

When he returned in late 1988, he was ordered to stay away from children and was reassigned to St. Albert the Great.

Parishioners were not told of the allegation, but Father Strittmatter's supervisors were notified and the priest was ordered to continue seeing therapists.

"His therapists have assured me that his inclinations were under complete control and that he posed no threat to this community," Archbishop Pilarczyk told the parish Sunday.

The archbishop said the 69-year-old priest, who could not be reached for comment, "has not denied" either the 1988 or the more recent allegation.

Several St. Albert parishioners voiced support for Father Strittmatter after hearing the news, saying the allegations should not overshadow his years of work at churches and at Elder.

Some, however, said they should have been told sooner about the allegations. Nikki Citrigno said the restrictions on Father Strittmatter's contact with children are no guarantee.

"If you're trusting them to take care of your kids, you should trust them to tell you the truth about who is taking care of them," said Ms. Citrigno, who sends her 2-year-old son to the church preschool but is not a parish member. "He was still around kids here, and he could have snuck off with one somewhere."

Archdiocese spokesman Dan Andriacco said the church has received no complaints of abuse involving Father Strittmatter from anyone at St. Albert the Great.

But he said the archdiocese has been contacted recently by "two to three" other former students who have complained of inappropriate behavior by Father Strittmatter while he was principal at Elder.

All of the accusations involve inappropriate touching, Mr. Andriacco said.

The pastor at St. Albert the Great, Father James Manning, said he arrived at the parish 11 years ago and was immediately told "in confidence" by the archbishop about the 1988 allegation against Father Strittmatter.

"Since (Father Strittmatter) was here before me I didn't feel it was my responsibility to say, "Hey, there was a problem here,' " Father Manning said. "You are torn between confidentiality on one hand and whether people have a right to know."

Mr. Andriacco said he understands why some parishioners may question the decision not to notify the congregation sooner.

"Whether we would do it the same way again is open to question," he said. "We might look at it differently now."

The archdiocese has been under pressure for months by the public and law enforcement to disclose more information about priests accused of misconduct.

Although the news about Father Strittmatter came as a shock to parishioners in Kettering, a longtime parishioner at Our Lady of Victory expressed little surprise.

He said parishioners were told in 1988 that Father Strittmatter left for medical reasons, but some at the Delhi church had heard rumors about misconduct.

"When you tell me that statement today, am I shocked? No, because I was aware of all the rumors," said Ed Cappel, who was business manager at Our Lady of Victory in the mid-1980s.

Even so, Mr. Cappel said, most at the parish had "a very high regard" for the priest.

Those who knew Father Strittmatter at Elder say they also had a high regard for him. Mr. Andriacco, an Elder graduate, described the priest "as a figure of respect."

Another former student, Chip Healey, said Father Strittmatter was known as a strict disciplinarian who was very involved with student organizations and extracurricular activities.

"I never saw anything that would make me think there was a problem," Mr. Healey said.

Two other priests with Elder connections have been the subject of recent allegations.

The Rev. Thomas Kuhn, who succeeded Father Strittmatter as Elder's principal, was suspended last month from his Dayton parish after someone complained about files found on his church computers. Several computers have been seized by authorities.

Another Elder faculty member, the Rev. James Kiffmeyer, took a leave from teaching at the school because of accusations involving a former student at another school.

Mr. Andriacco said the allegations should not be a reflection on the school.

He said one explanation for the Elder connection to the three recent cases is that so many priests have worked at the school over the years, especially in the 1960s and 1970s.

"At one time or another, a good number of priests in Cincinnati were faculty at Elder," Mr. Andriacco said.

He said Father Strittmatter would remain on administrative leave pending further investigation. He said the victim notified prosecutors of the complaint, but it's unclear whether criminal charges are even possible.

The statute of limitations makes it difficult to prosecute cases that date back more than a few years. Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen could not be reached for comment Sunday.

Enquirer Reporter Kristina Goetz contributed to this report.

Father Strittmatter's career

1957 -- Ordained a priest in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

1957-1970 -- Assistant pastor at Resurrection of Our Lord (1957-1962), St. Leo the Great (1962-1967) and St. Bernard (1967-1970), all in Cincinnati. Also teaches classical languages at Elder High School.

1970-1982 -- Principal of Elder High School.

1982-1988 -- Pastor at Our Lady of Victory in Delhi.

1988 -- Accused of sexual misconduct for incident occurring years earlier involving a former Elder student. The archdiocese removes him from Our Lady of Victory and sends him to a treatment program for sex offenders.

1988 -- Completes treatment program and begins regular counseling sessions. Becomes assistant pastor at St. Albert the Great parish in Kettering. He is ordered to stay away from children, and his supervisors are notified of his past problems.

March 2002 -- As allegations of priest misconduct spread nationwide, the archdiocese announces that it still employs five priests who have been accused in the past of sexual abuse. The priests are not identified, but Father Strittmatter is among them.

May 2002 -- Another former Elder student complains to the archdiocese about sexual misconduct involving Father Strittmatter in the late 1970s.

June 2002 -- Removed from St. Albert the Great parish because of the new allegations.

Corrections and clarifications

A headline on Monday's front page incorrectly described the reason for the suspenstion of the Rev. Thomas Kuhn. Father Kuhn was suspended after complaints about files found on his church computer.

 
 

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