Cooley Regrets Turning Victims 'against God'

By Richelle Thompson,
The Cincinnati Enquirer
April 14, 2002

[See also Dan Horn and Richelle Thompson, How the Church Hid the Sins of Father Cooley, and Richelle Thompson, Abuse Robbed Family of Faith.]

Even as a child, George Cooley wanted to be a priest.

He said he hoped to give others the type of good religious experiences he had growing up in Cincinnati as one of eight kids in a solidly Catholic family.

But as a priest, he took advantage of his position to molest boys in his care. He brought shame upon the church, was defrocked and jailed.

“I wanted to bring them the good side of God, but after what I did, it gave them a very bad taste of God,” Mr. Cooley says today. “It hurt people to the point where it turned them against God. It's not God's fault. It was my fault.”

In his first media interview, Mr. Cooley told The Cincinnati Enquirer last week that he regrets sexually abusing boys in a Catholic camp and at the parish he served in the early 1980s, Guardian Angels in Mount Washington.

The former priest served three months in jail on molestation convictions and another 15 months for violating probation by leaving the county once he got out. He has been the subject of several civil lawsuits recently settled by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

Now 53 and a customer service representative at a Cincinnati-area business, Mr. Cooley says he has learned from what happened and has undergone years of counseling.

“A lot of people don't understand that people can change in 20 years,” he says.

When Mr. Cooley attended seminary in the 1970s, sexuality was rarely addressed. Students were encouraged to exercise and pray to stifle sexual urges. Mr. Cooley questioned his sexual orientation, but decided it wouldn't be an issue since the priesthood required celibacy.

He says the first time he fondled a child was in the late 1970s at Fort Scott, a Catholic camp where he was a chaplain. The last was in 1983 at Guardian Angels parish, he says.

Mr. Cooley won't divulge the number of children he molested. Court records show that at least eight boys alleged sexual abuse. Mr. Cooley admitted to some allegations, but says four children made false accusations.

The church removed Mr. Cooley from Guardian Angels and sent him to counseling. During the early 1980s, that was seen by many experts as an appropriate remedy, Mr. Cooley and church officials say.

Today, Mr. Cooley spends most of his spare time at home, gardening or reading mystery novels. He has tried to volunteer with AIDS patients, but he's been turned down. His criminal record keeps him from applying for other volunteer work.

He attends Mass occasionally and sprinkles his conversations with Scripture.

Mr. Cooley says he never goes around children — even his family keeps the kids away.

“I'd rather have it that way in case anything ever goes wrong, they can't blame me,” he says. “If I go to the bathroom (at the movie theater), and a kid comes in, I'm gone. I don't even want to be around him.”

He considered moving, away from a place that will always associate him with some of the church's darkest days. He stayed because of family. And, Mr. Cooley says, wherever he goes, the sins of his past will be with him, whether people know or not.

He cites Psalm 51: “And my sin is before me always.”


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