Local Priest Accused of Sexual Abuse

By David Briggs
Plain Dealer Religion Reporter
October 28, 2003

A priest who taught at Borromeo Seminary has been suspended from active ministry because of allegations of sexual abuse of a minor.

The Rev. Patrick J. O'Connor, 45, was placed on leave last month after the new Cleveland Catholic Diocese sexual abuse review board determined the allegation was credible enough to move forward, said Robert Tayek, diocesan spokesman.

A lawyer for O'Connor said the priest denies the allegation.

"He looks forward to the day he is reinstated to the ministry," said lawyer Brian Downey of Cleveland.

The alleged abuse occurred in the late 1980s, Tayek said. At that time, O'Connor was an associate at St. Joseph Church in Cuyahoga Falls. Tayek said the diocese reported the abuse to civil authorities, and O'Connor is coopera ting

in the investiga tion. But Tayek released no other details.

O'Connor is the first priest placed on leave since a predom inantly lay re view board be gan meeting this summer to monitor the diocese's handling of sexual abuse allegations. The review board assesses the credibility of initial allegations and makes a recommendation to the bishop.

O'Connor was at St. Joseph Church from his ordination in January 1985 to June 1990, when he was transferred to St. Basil the Great Church in Brecksville.

This was his third year at the college-level seminary. Borromeo students try to discern a call to the priesthood during their undergraduate years. If they choose to continue in the ministry, they attend a graduate school such as St. Mary Seminary on the same campus off of Euclid Avenue in Wickliffe.

Borromeo students take the majority of their classes at John Carroll University in University Heights but take some philosophy and religious-studies classes on the Borromeo campus. O'Connor taught religious studies at Borromeo.

O'Connor was placed on administrative leave Sept. 3 and moved out of the seminary.

No seminary students reported being abused by O'Connor, said the Rev. Thomas Dragga, president of Borromeo Seminary, and the Rev. Thomas Tifft, president of St. Mary Seminary.

Bishop Anthony Pilla told the seminarians personally of the allegation,

"I think they were very appreciative of the bishop's presence," Dragga said.

In all, 16 priests are now on leave from the diocese because of allegations they abused minors.

If the bishop concludes that the initial investigation shows the allegation "is not clearly false or not clearly incredible," the alleged offender will be removed from ministry pending a full investigation.

In a second-stage review, the lay board will investigate and report to the bishop whether the sexual abuse of a minor by a priest, seminarian or deacon has been established. In cases where the evidence is unclear, the review board may make a recommendation to the bishop about the alleged offender's fitness to return to ministry.

No cases have been adjudicated, Tayek said.

Pilla has the final say. The bishop has consistently affirmed national church policy that any priest who has committed even a single act of sexual abuse of a minor will be permanently removed from the ministry.


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