Priest at Center of Scandal Has Died

By David Crumm
Detroit Free Press
June 19, 2004

The Rev. Gerald Shirilla, the priest at the center of the crisis over the abuse of minors that shook the Catholic Church in Michigan starting in early 2002, has died of complications from melanoma in an Alpena hospice. He was 66.

In the spring of 2002, Tom Paciorek, a former Major League baseball All-Star and now a Fox TV broadcast announcer, went public with accusations that Shirilla had sexually abused him as a minor in the 1970s. Three of Paciorek's brothers also accused Shirilla of abusing them as minors when the family lived in Hamtramck. Shirilla, who denied the abuse, had been removed from ministry once by the Archdiocese of Detroit in 1993 because of an unspecified accusation of having abused a minor. He left full-time church work and, in 1995, cofounded a travel agency in Arlington, Va. He was never charged with a crime because statutes of limitations had expired on the claims against him.

But by 2002, Shirilla resurfaced as a parish priest in Alpena, working for his old friend Gaylord Bishop Patrick Cooney. Two days before Paciorek's public announcement, Cooney and Detroit Cardinal Adam Maida removed Shirilla from the ministry again.

After reading in the media about Paciorek's harrowing account of abuse, many other victims were encouraged to step forward. In Michigan, dozens of other clergy have been removed as a result.

On Friday, Paciorek said he and his brothers take no pleasure in hearing of Shirilla's death. The priest died Wednesday. "We don't wish anyone any harm," he said.

However, Paciorek said, "It is sad that the good things he accomplished as a priest were overwhelmed by the pedophile issues he had in his life.

"I hope that, in the end, he made peace with his God."

Archdiocesan spokesman Ned McGrath said Maida would make no comment about Shirilla's death. McGrath added that Shirilla "did receive last rites from Bishop Cooney. And, he was reconciled about all that has happened in the past. We now leave this in the hands of the Lord."

Born in Hamtramck in 1938, Shirilla was an influential priest throughout much of his career. He was invited to teach at Sacred Heart Seminary in the 1970s. By 1983, Cardinal Edmund Szoka named him the director of the archdiocesan department of worship, a job that led to his most famous assignment: organizing Pope John Paul II's mass at the Pontiac Silverdome in 1987.

At 2 p.m. Sunday, Cooney will celebrate Shirilla's funeral mass at St. Mary Catholic Church in Alpena. He will be buried in Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Detroit.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.
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