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  St. Rose of Lima Parishioners Support Accused Priest

By Sarah Hollander
Plain Dealer [Cleveland, Ohio]
August 1, 2002

More than 200 people packed the parish hall at St. Rose of Lima Church last night to support their ousted priest and blast what they consider a flawed system for handling sex abuse accusations.

The Cleveland Catholic Diocese suspended the Rev. James Viall four weeks ago after he was accused of misconduct with a minor in the 1960s. And a former altar boy filed a lawsuit against the diocese Tuesday claiming Viall molested him in the 1980s.

Viall, ordained in 1954, had served at St. Rose, on Detroit Avenue near West 114th Street, for the last 28 years.

"As far as we're concerned, the claims are unjustified," Melanie Zuik, a member of the church since 1964, said at last night's meeting.

The Rev. Larry Jurcak, director of clergy personnel for the diocese, and Sister Rita Mary Harwood, diocesan secretary for parish life and development, moderated the two-hour meeting and tried to answer questions from an often emotional and agitated crowd.

"If you go after Father Viall, you need to go after Mother Teresa or the pope," said church member Joan Roth.

A woman handing out pro-Viall literature at the parish hall door echoed the feeling of many parishioners that the priest was a victim of a plot by people who didn't agree with his conservative views.

"I believe in the devil," she said.

Attorney Bill Crosby, who filed the lawsuit, described the reaction to Viall's suspension as an "incredible parishioner backlash."

"They're essentially calling the parents [of the alleged victims] evil," he said.

But Crosby believes just as firmly that the accusations have merit.

"If this guy was James Viall, just some neighbor down the street, you'd be up there with a baseball bat," Crosby said.

The diocese suspended Viall from his duties based on recently released directives from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Jurcak said. If Viall is found innocent by both the secular and diocesan systems, he could be reinstated to the parish, Jurcak said.

The diocese has suspended 28 priests, 15 of them active, for accusations of abuse in the past year.

"This is tremendously painful. However, we need to follow the process of the law," Harwood said.

 
 

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