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  Two More Area Priests Investigated
Gaylord Diocese Investigating after Review of Records Showed Allegations from 20 and 30 Years Ago

By Lori Hall Steele
Traverse City Record-Eagle
June 11, 2002

Traverse City — The Diocese of Gaylord has begun investigating decades-old allegations of sexual misconduct with minors by two more northern Michigan priests, charges uncovered in an internal review of church records, officials announced Monday.

The diocese also reported Monday it has voluntarily disclosed the results of its records review - "credible" sexual misconduct allegations against seven diocesan priests - to prosecutors in 21 northern Michigan counties. The allegations date back 31 years, to the diocese's formation in 1971, and all charges involve minors.

"We want to be as cooperative as we can to assure everyone of our commitment to healing the wounds of the past and preventing the abuse of anyone in the future," Bishop Patrick Cooney said in a prepared statement.

Some 256 priests have served in the 21-county diocese since 1971.

As the crisis among Catholic clergy continues, state lawmakers are considering requiring mandatory reporting of sexual misconduct allegations against clergy, and church officials elsewhere - including the Archdiocese of Detroit - have voluntarily shared records with prosecutors.

"We certainly share the concerns of the people for the safety and well-being of children," Cooney's statement said, adding that "in order to move forward in the most appropriate manner, we had to have as thorough an understanding of the past as possible."

Of the seven priests involved, three are deceased, the diocese said. The remaining four are no longer in active ministry, and they include the Revs. Patrick Barrett of Mapleton and Ron Gronowski, who headed up churches in Lake City and Manton. Barrett, who publicly denied charges against him, recently was placed on leave pending investigation of 30-year-old allegations. Gronowski in May stepped down after admitting to sexual misconduct with a teen-ager in the 1970s.

The diocese declined to reveal other priest's names, information about the nature of the charges, the number of alleged victims, ages or genders of children involved or the locations of alleged incidents.

The two additional investigations involve 20-year-old and 30-year-old allegations involving minors, charges that diocesan officials uncovered during the records review. Diocese officials decided to further investigate the charges, but declined to publicly reveal any additional information to protect the privacy of those involved.

Since the national clergy crisis began earlier this year, three northern Michigan priests - Barrett, Gronowski and the Rev. Gerald Shirilla - have been removed. Shirilla, an Archdiocese of Detroit priest, was terminated from his assignment at an Alpena church following publicity over accusations that he molested boys and young men while serving years ago in the Detroit area.

Bishops, including Cooney, plan to meet this week in Texas and will discuss a comprehensive national policy on handling clergy abuse cases. A Diocese of Gaylord committee is currently reviewing its existing sexual misconduct and priest-hiring policies, a move lauded by area Catholics. The committee expects to issue findings this week.

Diocesan officials began reviewing records of sexual misconduct allegations following discussion with the College of Consultors, a body of priests who advise the bishop. The diocese shared information with prosecutors to "alleviate any concerns on their part as to past occurrences of sexual misconduct with minors in their respective counties," spokeswoman Candace Neff said.

"Most" of the diocese's 21 counties are not involved in the allegations deemed credible by church officials, Neff said, declining to be more specific. Area prosecutors could not be reached for comment late Monday.

Last week, 40 diocese priests gathered to pray, reflect, share concerns and express ideas about the crisis.

"In this diocese, we are seeking solutions which will best address the problem of sexual abuse, not solely within the confines of the Catholic Church, but in society as a whole," Cooney said. "Clearly we have to start with ourselves and we do have work to do to reestablish trust, but with God's help we are going to move forward step by step."

The Diocese of Gaylord is home to 82,000 Catholics and 62 active priests.

"There are no easy answers and it will take time, but our Catholic faith calls us to minister to the hurts and needs of all people," Cooney said. "We are sincere in our desire to do just that."

 
 

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