The Cleveland Catholic Diocese Has a List of Clergy Credibly Accused of Child Abuse. Advocates Want the Church to Finally Release It

Cleveland Scene [Cleveland OH]

April 12, 2024

By Mark Oprea

Fewer than 25% of the names compiled 20 years ago have been shared with the public

.In 2002, following a groundbreaking investigation by the Boston Globe into child sexual abuse by Catholic priests and the steps the church took to protect them, Cleveland prosecutors and grand jurors soon came up with a list of 145 local priests who allegedly abused children.

The problem then, even after years of work by then County Prosecutor Bill Mason and the grand jury, only a handful of the suspects were charged. The rest contained on the list remained secret due to a judge’s ruling on the secrecy of grand jury proceedings and it took years for the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, after cultural pushback, to release some (52 to date) of the names themselves.

On Wednesday, in front of the catherdral of St. John the Evangelist, a team of anti-child abuse advocates called once again for the full grand jury list of offenders to be released.

The push, led by activists Anne Barrett Doyle and Claudia Vercellotti, arrives just a week after officials at St. Ignatius High School in Ohio City admitted that a former priest of theirs, a Fr. Frank Canfield, had likely abused at least one former student.

Speaking in front of poster boards with victims’ portraits and silouhettes of accusers, Doyle, co-director of Bishop Accountability, directed her accusations to Bishop Edward Malesic, whom she believes carries the power to unveil the remaining hundred or so names of the alleged.

“The single most compassionate thing a bishop can do when he says he cares about victims… It’s not a healing mass. It’s not a healing garden. It’s not even praying for them. It’s releasing information,” Doyle said. “When the church acknowledges that someone has been credibly accused and they release information about the abuse, you know what happens? More victims come forward.”

The group, as part of the press conference, published the names of 50 clerics they say have been credibly accused but who have not been named by the diocese.

Doyle’s hunch is reflected in the incident at St. Ignatius. Canfield, originally from the Diocese of Toledo, was accused in 2022 of abusing a student at Saint John’s Jesuit High School. In 2023, an investigation by the Midwest Province Jesuits concluded the allegation was credible. Other schools Canfield worked at were informed.

By December, a St. Ignatius alum came forward, accusing Canfield of abusing him during the 2011-2012 school year. (Canfield had died in June.)
Mark OpreaDoyle’s accusations were focused on Bishop Edward Malesic, who she believes carries the power to release the names of priests in the Diocese of Cleveland who’ve received sex abuse allegations in the past two decades.In a letter to the public, St. Ignatius president Raymond Guiao explained that transparency in the situation with Canfield was paramount to securing trust, and encouraged other students who may have experienced abuse to reach out.

“I invite you to join me in prayer for our alumnus, for all victims of clerical sexual abuse, and for all of those impacted in the wake of such a tragedy,” Guiao wrote. “Should anyone wish to discuss this or any other situation with me personally, my door is always open.”

Doyle’s list, held up for cameras multiple times during her speech on Wednesday, contains some 50 clerics who spent at least some of their career in the Cleveland diocese. Thirty-eight, she said, had already been “credibly-accused” by another bishop, or some religious superior. Many, she said, are deceased.

As for reasons Bishop Malesic’s hasn’t shared the remaining names, Doyle believes that the cleric’s refusal is in direct infringment of Pope Francis’ sexual abuse accountability law, created to hold all those accused of abuse in the Catholic Church accountable. The law made expanded and made concrete in canonical proceedings last March.

It’s given Doyle, who had been working in anti-abuse advocacy since the Boston scandal, a particular sense of urgency.

“Where are those priests now? Do their neighbors know what they did? Are they working in schools? Are they counselors?” Doyle said. “We find that even when priests are released from the priesthood, if they’re abusers, they find a way to work with young people and children again.”

The Diocese of Cleveland’s own list, which came to light in April 2002 and was revised in 2018, contains the names of 53 member clerics found guilty of abuse, those who’ve admitted to abusing minors, who those whose actions have been proven true “by canonical procedure.”

And those procedures end in a series of punishments: removed (like 14 priests) from all regular church duties—saying Mass, hearing confessions, wearing priestly garb; given a life of prayer and penance; obligated to “live alone in prayer” (like one priest).

Others, like six priests on the Diocese’s list, were removed from ministry permanently. (Thirty had died before accusations were brought to light.)

In response to accusations against Malesic, a Diocese spokesperson told Scene that their own list doesn’t include clergy from other dioceses, or those who belong to a religious order—”only clerics of the Diocese of Cleveland.”

“The Catholic Diocese of Cleveland is steadfastly committed to the protection and safety of children, as demonstrated in its robust policies regarding background checks, its education and training, its commitment to reporting all allegations of child sexual abuse to civil authorities,” the statement read, “and by the fact that no cleric in the Diocese of Cleveland against whom a substantiated allegation has been made is permitted to ever again serve in ministry.”

Both Doyle and Vercellotti said that they’ve received lackluster responses from Attorney General Dave Yost and County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley, yet have faith in institutions like St. Ignatius to surface names they believe belong in the public eye.

“It takes seconds to abuse a child and a lifetime to overcome it,” Vercellotti said. “Ohio deserves better. Ohio kids deserve better.”