Suit Charges Priest Raped Teens in Bedford
By David Briggs
June 20, 2002
In a widening legal battle over clergy sex abuse, three men yesterday sued a Byzantine Catholic priest, saying he had propositioned one and raped the other two as teenagers.
The men said in interviews that the Rev. John Rebovich enticed teenagers to hang out in the rectory at St. Eugene Church in Bedford with free alcohol and then abused them when they were too drunk to resist.
Officials at St. Eugene and the Byzantine Catholic Diocese of Parma knew or should have known about Rebovich's abusive behavior, and they failed to respond to numerous allegations, according to the suit filed in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court.
The men are seeking damages from Rebovich, the parish and the diocese.
Rebovich has been on leave from the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma since 1990, when a former altar boy sued the priest for rape. The diocese settled in 1991; the agreement was confidential. The Rev. Nicholas Rachford, spokesman for the Byzantine church here, said Rebovich can't represent himself as a priest.
Rebovich, 62, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Last week, the nation's Catholic bishops approved policies that declared that no priest would be able to return to public ministry if he committed even one act of abuse against a minor.
The Byzantine Catholic Churches reflect the traditions of Greek, Byzantine and Semitic cultures. They recognize the authority of Pope John Paul II and cooperate with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The Byzantine bishops are members of the conference and approved the plan that bishops adopted last week in Dallas to address clergy sex abuse. Rachford said the Parma jurisdiction will follow the policies.
A suit seeking justice for victims is "going to be a real blessing because of all the anger harbored inside of me," said one of the men, who has struggled with keeping the abuse secret for more than two decades.
Attorneys representing the men say the U.S. Catholic bishops' plan to address sex abuse is a step in the right direction. But that will not stop them from suing the church, in some cases targeting more than diocesan priests. They're now investigating allegations against clergy from religious orders and Eastern-rite Catholic churches.
"Litigation and the courage of survivors started this, and litigation and the courage of survivors is going to finish this," said Jeffrey Anderson, a prominent national attorney in the area of clergy sex abuse who is assisting Cleveland lawyer William Crosby on the Rebovich case.
Anderson and Crosby said they plan to file another sexual abuse suit Monday against a religious-order priest.
In the suit filed yesterday, the three men say Rebovich abused them between 1978 and 1981, when he served at St. Eugene. The suit says Rebovich also taught religion to parishioners at St. Peter Chanel High School.
Rachford said church officials just became aware of the suit yesterday and had no comment on it.
In interviews, the men said Rebovich lured teens to the rectory by inviting them over to drink alcohol. They said the offer was difficult to resist, and that the priest was a "cool" guy for allowing them to hang out and play cards.
"When we were growing up, the priest was a man of God. You looked up and revered him," one man said.
That man said Rebovich asked him to clean up after bingo for $50.
The priest also let it be known the cleanup crew could help themselves to beer.
Another man said Rebovich would have lots of teens hanging around his house. One by one, the boys would leave. On two occasions when he had been drinking and ended up alone with Rebovich, the priest raped him, he said.
He said it was not until this past month, when lawyers were searching for victims, that he found out it had happened to others.
Joseph Klimko, 39, the one accuser identified in the suit, said that he had not been raped but that Rebovich had constantly propositioned him to perform sexual acts.
When he agreed to be identified, Klimko said, he recognized that he had a responsibility to help other victims come forward. He said it was the words of the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young song "Ohio," about the National Guard shootings during an anti-war demonstration at Kent State University, that kept repeating in his mind:
"How can you run when you know?"
Plain Dealer Reporter Tom Breckenridge contributed to this story.
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