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  Victim Backs Priest's Penalty
Cleveland Diocese's Response Pleases One Sex-Abuse Accuser of Former Akron Pastor

By Colette M. Jenkins
Akron Beacon Journal [Ohio]
August 19, 2004

Pat Rogacs' faith in the hierarchy of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland is on the mend.

"I now believe that Bishop (Anthony) Pilla is acting on his words. He said he is sorry for the hurt and pain of the victims of sexual abuse. He said sexual abuse won't be tolerated," said Rogacs, 52, of Akron. "He took the time to listen to me, and he took action against the priest who abused me."

On Monday, Pilla met with Rogacs and informed her that the Rev. John J. Mueller is no longer allowed to perform duties as a priest.

Pilla's decision came last week after the diocesan review board assigned to investigate the cases of priests accused of sexual abuse issued its first recommendation. That came about 11 months after the predominantly lay review board began investigating the cases of more than half the 20 priests in the diocese who had been placed on administrative leave because of allegations of abuse.

Pilla stated in a letter read last weekend to parishioners at St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Wooster that the board members "have indicated to me that a preponderance of the evidence presented to the Review Board shows that Father John J. Mueller has engaged in conduct defined by the Policy (for the Safety of Children in Matters of Sexual Abuse) as sexual abuse of a minor."

Although Mueller's case has been resolved, 18 priests remain on leave in the diocese. The case against the Rev. Joseph Romansky, who was accused of abusing dozens of boys in Cleveland over 20 years, was closed when he died earlier this year. Romansky's death was reported as related to an illness.

Allegations against some of the priests, including Mueller, arose in a seven-month investigation by Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill Mason into allegations of sex abuse in the diocese. That investigation, which concluded in December 2002, included records that were more than 50 years old. It showed that more than 1,000 people alleged they had been sexually abused by nearly 500 people, of whom 145 were priests.

The grand jury that considered the abuse allegations returned criminal indictments against one priest and six diocesan employees. Mason said many of the other priests escaped criminal charges because the time limit for charging them had expired. The records were returned to the diocese for review and possible disciplinary action.

ALLEGATION VS. MUELLER

The allegation against Mueller that was investigated by the review board dates to 1962, when the accuser was 16 years old. Pilla's letter indicated that Mueller continues to deny that allegation. The letter also stated that Mueller could not be removed from the priesthood because in 1962, church law recognized a 16-year-old as an adult.

"For the public good of the Church, I have imposed restrictions on the public exercise of any acts of public ministry on Father John Mueller as permitted by ecclesiastical law. This means he will not be able to function as a priest in any public capacity," Pilla wrote.

Although Mueller can no longer practice public ministry as a priest or wear priestly garb, he is technically retired. That means he can still receive retirement benefits, including hospitalization coverage, a housing allowance and money for continuing education, said Robert Tayek, a diocesan spokesman.

Mueller was suspended on July 4, 2002, while pastor of the Wooster parish. Diocesan records indicate that Mueller retired eight months later, on March 3, 2003 -- his 70th birthday. At the time of Mueller's suspension, Pilla had accepted his retirement, and it had been announced to the parish.

According to the letter, Mueller is not appealing Pilla's decision.

ROGACS' ALLEGATION

That is good news for Rogacs, who alleges that Mueller abused her in 1977, when she was 24 years old, at St. Bernard Church in downtown Akron.

At that time, Rogacs was seeking a church annulment for her marriage that had ended in divorce in 1974. After attending a divorced-and-separated group that Mueller was conducting, Rogacs decided to consult with him about her annulment.

"I went to his office at St. Bernard's, and we were talking. He got up from his desk, walked around and stood in front of me," Rogacs said. "Then, he put his hand in my pants, and he fondled me. To be honest with you, I was numb, and I don't even remember leaving his office that day."

Rogacs said that several months later, she became homeless while attending classes at the University of Akron. She decided to ask Mueller for permission to sleep in her car in the church parking lot.

"It was kind of dumb. I went back," Rogacs said. "Somehow he manipulated me. It lasted six months.

"He told me he loved me. He would fondle me or ask for oral sex, and it was always in the office or he would take me to a park. He would put me up in a hotel when it was cold and rainy. He never penetrated me. He kept saying he loved me, and I thought he was going to leave the priesthood."

In 1989, Rogacs reported Mueller's behavior to the diocese. She had begun therapy and had been hospitalized and on medication for depression and anger.

In a letter to support Rogacs' request for disability benefits, dated May 11, 1993, Rogacs' psychiatrist stated that Mueller had admitted his abuse when Rogacs confronted him in a therapy session in that year.

"I thought it was over after I confronted him. But it will never be over," Rogacs said. "Every time I think I'm healed, something comes up, and I relive all of the emotions of feeling used and the inner turmoil. But I'm not as angry as I used to be, and I don't blame the church hierarchy like I used to because I know now that Bishop Pilla is human, and he really does care."

 
 

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