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  Former Falls Priest Suspended
Sex Abuse Allegation from '80s Spurs Full Church Investigation

By Colette M. Jenkins
Akron Beacon Journal [Ohio]
October 29, 2003

The Rev. James Marsick has faith that his predecessor at St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Cuyahoga Falls is innocent of an allegation of sexual abuse.

"He has denied this allegation, and I'm taking him at his word," Marsick said. "His reputation at this parish is impeccable, and he is held in the highest esteem."

The Rev. Patrick J. O'Connor is accused of sexually abusing a child in the late 1980s while associate pastor of St. Joseph's.

He was placed on leave Sept. 3, becoming the 16th priest in the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland to be suspended amid abuse allegations. O'Connor's suspension came after a diocesan review board determined the allegation against him was credible enough to warrant a full investigation. At the time of his suspension, he was preparing to begin his third year of teaching religious studies at Borromeo Seminary in Wickliffe.

In accordance with the new diocesan policy on sexual abuse of minors, the allegation was reported immediately to the Cuyahoga County Department of Children and Family Services, said Robert Tayek, spokesman for the diocese.

O'Connor's suspension was reported to the seminary and to all diocesan priests. Bishop Anthony M. Pilla told the seminarians at Borromeo personally of the allegation and O'Connor's suspension.

"We followed the policy to the letter," Tayek said. "The policy requires that we notify the civil authorities and the parish or institution where the priest is assigned. There is no requirement to go beyond that."

O'Connor, 45, is the first priest to be placed on leave since a predominantly lay review board was established in May to monitor the diocese's handling of sexual abuse allegations.

Pat Ritzert, a Cleveland lawyer and a member of St. Vincent's parish in Akron, chairs the board. She said several of the cases of the 16 priests on leave, including O'Connor's, are in the second stage of review.

It is in that stage that the review board does a full investigation and makes a recommendation to the bishop.

"The review is a canonical process. We are acting under church law to prepare a recommendation for the bishop, and he will determine if further action should be taken," Ritzert said. "We are dealing with the ministry of a person accused and will make a recommendation regarding the future ministry of the individual."

Ritzert said it could be three months before the review board has recommendations for the bishop.

No details of the allegation against O'Connor were revealed.

The Rev. Thomas Dragga, president of Borromeo, described O'Connor as a "good colleague" and said no seminarian ever reported being abused by O'Connor.

O'Connor's lawyer, Brian Downey of Cleveland, said his client denies the allegation that led to his suspension. "He has taken and passed a polygraph concerning the allegation," Downey said. "He looks forward to being reinstated to his ministry."

O'Connor left St. Joseph's in June 1990 after having served there since his ordination in January 1985. O'Connor also served at St. Basil the Great in Brecksville and St. Jude in Elyria.

Marsick replaced O'Connor as associate pastor at St. Joseph's, then became pastor of the 200-family parish in 1991.

"He was so very popular here that many people have asked my permission, as pastor, to have him come back to baptize their children and perform wedding ceremonies," Marsick said. "He has been back a number of times. There has never, ever been a whisper of anything that he has done wrong."

"I don't know what the accusation is, but I don't believe it. Knowing him and his dedication, I have to believe that the accusation is either a miscalculation, extortion, a lie or an exaggeration."

 
 

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