14 Still Priests Despite Sex Cases
Area Clergymen Continue to Receive Pay, Benefits
By Lynn Hulsey and Tom Beyerlein
Dayton Daily News
March 12, 2004
It's been a slow road to zero tolerance for the scandal-rocked U.S. Catholic church.
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati has stripped 14 priests of their ministries because of "substantiated" allegations that they sexually abused children. But despite the U.S. bishops' 2002 zero-tolerance policy, it remains unclear when - or even if - the 14 will be permanently removed from the priesthood.
While they may not present themselves as priests or say Mass, all of the accused remain priests.
Among the 14 accused priests is former Wright State University pastoral minister Ellis Harsham, who left active ministry a decade ago amid allegations of sexual misconduct. Archdiocese officials lost track of Harsham and did not realize until last fall that he had not been officially removed from the priesthood, said Dan Andriacco, spokesman for the Archdiocese.
"I don't know if our obligation to him has ceased or not, but he is not taking money from us," Andriacco said.
He said the remaining 13 priests are receiving salaries, benefits and a housing allowance, which will continue until they are removed from the Andriacco said the archdiocese is moving forward on all 14 cases, but he wouldn't comment on the progress of each priest's case. "The criminal process works the same way," Andriacco priesthood. All but two of the 14 served Miami Valley parishes at some point.
Some of the accused priests - Andriacco won't say how many - have asked the Vatican to remove them from the priesthood. Others "have said they are going to fight it every step of the way," he said.
The process is taking far longer than church officials had hoped, probably because the Vatican is dealing with similar issues from dioceses across the country, Andriacco said.
"We realize that there is a very understandable frustration among the faithful that cases of priests abusing minors aren't moving faster through the Vatican," Andriacco said. "We share that frustration and we share the hope that these cases will be resolved soon."
Although the allegations of sexual misconduct against the 14 priests were substantiated by the archdiocese, they still must be proven, Andriacco said.
"It doesn't mean it's true," he said. "It means there is a substantial reason to believe that it is true. They all have a right to a (church) trial and if they say they didn't do it, the Vatican may ask us to have a trial for that person before they can be removed." said. "The police and prosecutors don't make announcements about what happens every step of the way."
Christy Miller, head of the Cincinnati chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said she thinks the archdiocese is keeping details of the cases quiet in hopes that the public will forget about them.
"I think they're banking on that we'll forget, but we're not going to forget," she said. "They just can't hide behind a veil of secrecy. We're not going to accept that anymore."
Vatican officials will have final say on how the cases are handled. They could dismiss the priests, order a church trial, require that the priests remain on permanent leave or order the archdiocese to reinstate them.
"(The Vatican) will give us directions on what to do and we have to follow it," Andriacco said.
He said the Vatican is supposed to apply the "norms" set by United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, who in 2002 ordered the permanent removal from ministry, and possible defrocking, of any priest who has sexual contact with a child.
One rationale church officials have used in the past for allowing accused priests to remain in the ministry or on leave was that they could be more closely monitored than if they were defrocked. Under the rules preceding the zero-tolerance policy, some accused priests were placed in parishes but required to meet up to 11 requirements, such as attending ongoing therapy and having a mentoring relationship with another priest, which was a form of monitoring, said Andriacco.
But he said the archdiocese does not have a system of monitoring the behavior of the priests who are now on leave.
"We do not have parole officers. Short of a 24-hour monitoring, there is no way that anybody can be sure that a person is not going to do something wrong," Andriacco said. "In that sense we're not monitoring them."
Andriacco acknowledged Thursday that the scandal has hurt the church financially. The archdiocese recently announced budget cuts to offset a $1 million projected budget deficit.
"It's unquestionable that both the economy and a strongly negative reaction to the clerical child abuse scandal are factors," he said. "We know that because many people have written to say so. There's no denying that many Catholics are very angry at the child abuse situation and are expressing the anger by withholding money - in some cases from their local church and in some cases from the archbishop's annual fund drive."
Contact Lynn Hulsey at 225-7455.
Area PREISTS ON LEAVE
Cincinnati Archdiocese Priests on Administrative Leave (Dates placed on
leave in parenthesis)
Keith Albrecht (1993)
Ellis Harsham (1994)
Kenneth Schoettmer (2001)
Thomas Hopp (2002)
Thomas Kuhn (2002)
Lawrence Strittmatter (2002)
Richard Unwin (2003)
Francis Massarella (2003)
John Berning (2003; retired 1970)
David Kelley (2003)
Dan Pater (2003)
Thomas Brunner (2003)
Thomas Feldhaus (2003)
Ron Cooper (2004)
Contact: lhulsey@DaytonDailyNews.com, tbeyerlein@DaytonDailyNews.com.
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