Some Say Cincinnati Archbishop Waited Too Long to Suspend Priests

By John Nolan
The Associated Press, carried in Beacon Journal [Cincinnati OH]
March 19, 2005

CINCINNATI - Now that the Cincinnati Archdiocese has concluded compensating victims of priest sex abuse, parishioners say they see evidence that the archdiocese is taking molestation complaints more seriously and that abuse will no longer go unreported.

Cincinnati Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk suspended three priests last week from active ministry after the compensation panel concluded there was a basis to give money to three victims who said the clergy members abused them as children.

Catholic bookstore owner Suzanne Schneller said she saw the suspensions as evidence Pilarczyk is taking the problem seriously. The archbishop suspended the priests pending Vatican review of whether they should be allowed again to present themselves as clergy.

The $3 million compensation fund was part of the 19-county archdiocese's 2003 plea agreement to end a prosecutor's investigation of whether clergy abuse of children wasn't reported to authorities. The archdiocese pleaded no contest to failing to report crimes and was fined $10,000.

Increased scrutiny of priests makes abuse less likely to go undetected as it did for years, several parishioners said.

"I would find it really difficult to imagine a current situation not being reported," said Schneller, 55.

Advocates for clergy abuse victims said Pilarczyk waited too long to suspend the priests.

The Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, a national support organization for clergy abuse victims, said the archdiocese should have acted last fall when the victims first came before the compensation panel, which passed out money to 117 applicants.

"They should have moved promptly to investigate the allegation," SNAP leaders said after the suspensions were announced. "To have waited ... is an outrage."

Pilarczyk said the archdiocese investigated the allegations years earlier and was unable to substantiate them. The decision of the independent panel of a lawyer and two former judges gave the allegations a "semblance of truth" and was sufficient to remove the priests from ministry.

Harry W. Meyer, 77, of Milford, said he thinks Pilarczyk is doing the best he can.

"The archbishop has a responsibility to make sure what the facts are, and he can't rush into things," Meyer said. "He has to try to find out if those things really happened before he suspends a priest. It's not always easy to know what the truth is."

The archdiocese now requires screening and background checks for all employees who work with children.

Archdiocese spokesman Dan Andriacco said he knew of no current investigations of clergy.

The compensation panel didn't judge guilt or innocence, but said it tried to resolve doubts in favor of victims if they provided enough facts to allow some verification of claims.

The Rev. Robert Silva, president of the National Federation of Priests' Councils that advise bishops on church administration, said Pilarczyk had to act on the panel's findings.

"It really lifts the allegation out of just hearsay into the level of credibility," Silva said from Chicago.

But the problem for dioceses nationwide is that they failed to adequately investigate abuse allegations years ago, the Rev. Thomas Doyle said. Doyle, a Dominican priest based in Bethesda, Md., has testified across the country in support of abuse victims who sued the Catholic Church.

If the three suspended priests were abusers, "I do think he should have done something before this," Doyle said of Pilarczyk.

Pilarczyk suspended Stanley Doerger, David Vincent and Michael Paraniuk. The archdiocese now has 16 of 289 priests on paid administrative leave, and one was removed completely from the ministry.

Telephone messages were left requesting comment from Doerger and Vincent.

Paraniuk, 53, said he is innocent and did not know the accuser who said Paraniuk sexually abused him at the victim's home in 1983. That was before Paraniuk began 21 years of service as a chaplain for the archdiocese at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. Hospital spokesman Jim Feuer said the hospital has never received an abuse allegation against Paraniuk, who says he was cleared by archdiocese investigations in 1995 and 2004.

Paraniuk was fondled by two Franciscan priests, including one of his teachers, at monasteries in Wheeling, W.Va., and the Pittsburgh area in the 1970s when he was in his early 20s, he said. He has forgiven the priests - one of whom is dead - but hasn't forgotten his emotional turmoil, he said.

"It was years later before I could validate the pain of it and the emotions of being abused. So I know that pain, and I surely would not perpetrate that pain on another child," Paraniuk said. "You feel dirty and shameful ... You feel awful."