Pastor on West Side Accused of Sex Abuse
Priest Was a Family Friend, Brothers Say
By James F. McCarty
Plain Dealer [Cleveland Ohio]
November 4, 2003
The pastor of SS. Philip and James Parish on Cleveland's West Side has been suspended amid allegations that he sexually abused several brothers in a family he befriended in the 1970s.
The Rev. J. Brendan McNulty had taken voluntary leave two weeks ago while investigators for the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland's lay review board interviewed the priest and members of the large West Park family, now in their 30s and 40s.
The review board found the evidence to be credible and on Friday recommended to Bishop Anthony Pilla that McNulty be placed on administrative leave, said William Crosby, a lawyer for the family. Pilla's decision to suspend the pastor was announced to parishioners at Masses over the weekend.
McNulty cooperated fully in the investigation, diocesan spokesman Bob Tayek said yesterday.
The priest has moved out of the church's rectory and could not be reached for comment.
The popular and beloved priest often could be found at Irish festivals and parties dressed in an emerald green smock. He serves as chaplain of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, was co-chairman of the St. Patrick's Day Parade in 1999 and sits on the diocese's Clergy Personnel Board.
The diocesan news release issued yesterday referred to "a reported instance of sexual abuse of minors." But family members, lawyers and letters written by McNulty indicate that the sexual abuse took place for more than a decade and involved several of the seven boys in the family.
"I admit that [your older brothers] have been hurt as much as you - they have said so," McNulty wrote in a letter of apology to one of the brothers in 1982.
McNulty was newly ordained in 1974 when he arrived for his first parish assignment at St. Patrick's Church in West Park. The parents of the large religious family occasionally invited the young clergyman to their home for dinner. Sometimes, after he had drank several glasses of wine, they would urge the tipsy priest to spend the night.
One of the boys, now in his 30s, recalled his fear as an 8-year-old being awakened and finding McNulty in his bed performing oral sex on him.
"I was terrified and pretended that I was sleeping," he wrote in a statement.
Similar incidents of abuse continued for 10 years, and they didn't stop after McNulty was transferred to St. Luke parish in Lakewood in 1979, and to St. Thomas More in Brooklyn in 1984, McNulty's accuser said. McNulty had been at SS. Philip and James since 1991.
The accuser said he had not repressed the memories but had kept them secret out of embarrassment over the years. Gradually, however, he talked with his brothers about the abuse, learning that they had similar experiences with McNulty.
McNulty's own writings offer a window into the torment that his abusive behavior was causing him.
"How foolish and angry I felt in inflicting such a needless wound," McNulty told the boy, then 17. "When I broke your heart, I discovered my own. God help me."
McNulty wrote of trying to restrain himself from abusing the boys, which he called a "devastating experience."
"After the testing and counseling I went through and after a lot of soul searching and praying of my own, I know that I am not left-handed" - apparently meaning he is not gay, he said.
Tayek said yesterday that he did not know whether church officials were aware that McNulty had received treatment for sexually abusing children.
A spokeswoman for the Cuyahoga County prosecutor said diocese had not informed the office about McNulty's treatment after diocesan officials were given subpoenas last year ordering them to turn over all evidence of sexual abuse.
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