Religious-Order Priests' Abuses Overlooked

By Dan Horn
Cincinnati Enquirer [Cincinnati OH]
Downloaded March 20, 2004

At least eight Catholic priests and brothers affiliated with religious orders have been accused of abusing children in Greater Cincinnati since 1950.

An Enquirer survey of the 11 religious orders with offices or missions in the area that encompasses the Archdiocese of Cincinnati found that five of the accused clerics are now dead. The remaining three have been removed from the ministry.

One of them, Franciscan Brother Michael Montgomery, worked for years as an athletic trainer at Roger Bacon High School despite two accusations of inappropriate contact with male students in the 1980s.

The survey - the first of its kind involving Cincinnati's religious orders - shows that the total number of clerics accused in the archdiocese since 1950 is at least 57.

A national study released last month estimated that total at 49, but that study only included priests responsible to the archdiocese. The religious orders - which are independent of the archdiocese - include more than 240 priests and brothers from the Franciscans, Dominicans, Jesuits and other groups.

The survey's findings have raised concern among victims' advocates who say the religious orders have, for the most part, avoided the same kind of scrutiny that priests of the archdiocese have faced through two years of clergy abuse scandals.

They say the orders' independence, as well as their tendency to frequently move their priests around the country, often makes it more difficult for law enforcement and lay Catholics to keep track of abusive clerics.

"Abuse by religious-order priests kind of goes undetected," said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests. "It's easier for abuse by religious-order priests to be covered up or to go unreported."

The survey found that six of Cincinnati's religious orders reported at least one accused priest, three said they had none, one did not respond and one - the Jesuits- refused to provide information. No order reported more than two cases.

Of the three accused clerics who are still alive, only Brother Montgomery has been identified. Hamilton County prosecutors confirmed the church recently provided them with complaints about Montgomery, but said the allegations are too old to pursue in court.

"Hurtful behavior"

The Franciscans, who have about 200 brothers nationwide, received at least two complaints of improper touching involving Montgomery in the 1980s. The first incident occurred on a camping trip; the second at a hotel during a ski trip.

Despite those allegations, authorities were not called, and he was allowed to continue working as an athletic trainer at Roger Bacon.

"(Montgomery) told me it was purely accidental," said Father Jeremy Harrington, who was then the provincial minister of Cincinnati's Franciscans. "In hindsight, looking back on what I know now about the whole sexual abuse situation, I probably would have acted differently."

At the time, Harrington said, the boys' parents did not want to contact police or have Montgomery removed from his job. Montgomery, who could not be reached for comment, took an athletic training position in 1997 at St. Bonaventure University in New York.

He remained there until 2002, when the Franciscans' new provincial, Father Fred Link, removed him from ministry because of the previous allegations. The removal came as church leaders were under increasing pressure to crack down on accused clerics.

"The province is deeply committed to dealing with this heinous issue," Link said.

Officials at St. Bonaventure said they didn't know about Montgomery's past but received no complaints about him while he was there.

A third former Roger Bacon student came forward to complain a few months ago, saying Montgomery provided him with alcohol and molested him at a hotel in 1980, when he was 15. He was upset when he learned there had been other accusations.

"Why the hell didn't they remove him?" said the accuser, who is not being identified. "I don't want this to ever happen to another person. Hopefully, this will help the church cleanse itself of these parasites."

Link said he considers the allegation credible. When he recently told Montgomery there had been an allegation, Link said, his response "indicated he was responsible."

"Brother Michael is deeply contrite for any inappropriate, hurtful behavior," Link said.

He said Montgomery now is working with adults for a business in Indianapolis.

Tougher rules, new policies

Montgomery is one of 929 religious-order priests accused of abuse since 1950, according to the national study released last month.

That total represents 2.7 percent of all clerics affiliated with religious orders, which is about half the percentage for diocesan priests.

Clohessy said geography is the main reason the diocesan percentage is higher.

He said diocesan priests tend to spend entire careers in the same region, where it's easier to keep an eye on them, while religious-order priests routinely move from state to state or country to country.

And when someone wants to complain about a religious-order priest, it's sometimes difficult because the order's leaders might be thousands of miles away.

"With diocesan priests, it's harder to hide them and easier for victims to know who to contact if there's a problem," Clohessy said.

Leaders of the orders say their numbers are lower because they do a good job rooting out abusive clerics. They say they have adopted tougher rules to protect children and have agreed, like the dioceses, to immediately report abuse allegations to authorities.

"We've always been proactive with authorities," said Howard Schwartz, spokesman for the Maryknoll Fathers, an order with offices in Cincinnati and more than 1,300 priests worldwide. "Maryknoll always has and always will treat any allegation, even one from overseas, according to American law."

Maryknoll reported no abuse allegations in the Cincinnati area, as did the Dominicans and the Fathers of St. Charles.

The Franciscans, the Comboni Missionaries, the Glenmary Home Missioners and the Marianists each reported one accused cleric in Cincinnati. The Brothers of the Poor of St. Francis and the Society of the Precious Blood each reported two cases.

The leaders of the orders say they do their best to help victims who come forward. Most offer counseling and a few have agreed to out-of-court financial settlements.

But Konrad Kircher, a Mason lawyer who represents one of Montgomery's alleged victims, said they aren't doing enough. He said the orders and dioceses have followed a similar pattern of either concealing accusations or doing nothing about them.

Father Link said his order did not intentionally harm anyone, even though Montgomery was permitted to keep working after students complained about his conduct.

"The provincials before me never felt there ever was any danger to children," Link said. "I can't believe anyone would leave a person in ministry if they thought there was a danger."

Religious-order accusations

Eleven Catholic religious orders have missions or offices in the area encompassing Archdiocese of Cincinnati, with a total of about 240 priests and brothers. The Enquirer asked the orders to provide the number clerics accused of abuse since 1950, regardless of whether they were able to substantiate the allegations:

Brothers of the Poor of St. Francis - Two accused (one is dead, the other has been removed from ministry)

Comboni Missionaries - One accused (now dead)

Congregation of the Holy Spirit - Did not respond

Dominicans - None accused

Franciscans - One accused (removed from ministry)

Glenmary Home Missioners - One accused (removed from ministry)

Jesuits - Refused to participate

Marianists - One accused (now dead)

Maryknoll Fathers - None accused

Society of the Precious Blood - Two accused (both dead)

Fathers of St. Charles - None accused


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