Judge Asked to Restore Cleveland Bishop As Defendant

By M.R. Kropko
Associated Press, carried in Beacon Journal [Cleveland OH]
July 26, 2005

CLEVELAND - A lawyer on Tuesday asked a judge to restore Cleveland's Roman Catholic bishop as a defendant in a lawsuit as legal challenges and criticism against the bishop mount over his handling of a defamation case and sexual abuse cases.

Lawyer William Crosby argued that the decision to dismiss Bishop Anthony Pilla as a defendant in the defamation case was wrong because documents were withheld from Judge Janet Burnside of Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court.

Christopher Kodger and his parents, Suzan and Donald Kodger, have sued the diocese, accusing the diocese of falsely stating in 2002 that they supported the reassignment of the Rev. James Mulica. Christopher Kodger said the priest sexually abused him when he was a child.

Pilla on July 19 testified in a deposition that he twice reassigned Mulica. Pilla said the decision was made after Mulica had been treated for an alcohol problem at a treatment center for Catholic clergy.

In January, Burnside dismissed Pilla as a defendant on grounds that there was no evidence to support the family's claims against him. A motion filed Tuesday seeks to set aside that order and make Pilla a defendant again.

"The diocese believes that it is entirely inappropriate to try any type of legal case in the media. These matters should be properly confined to the courts where they belong," diocese spokesman Bob Tayek said Tuesday.

Crosby, who questioned Pilla last week during the bishop's deposition, filed a motion on Tuesday in which he said Pilla's lawyers withheld documents that "reveal that Bishop Pilla was the source of the defamatory material."

Some people who attended Mass on Tuesday at St. John Cathedral, the diocese's home church, expressed concerns about mounting criticism against the bishop.

"Obviously he's had too much empathy for his fellow priests, but he's still a kind and gentle man, and he's done a lot for the diocese," said Jerry Krayzel, a parishioner.

Sister Rose Mary Hoge, an Ursuline nun who also attended Mass, said it appears as if Pilla has been targeted in part because of his high-ranking position. She said she cried last week when she heard some of the allegations against him, including criticism from several women that the bishop has not adequately apologized as promised for a priest's abusive behavior at an all-girls high school about 40 years ago.

Crosby said there is no campaign against the bishop that he knows of.

"While it may seem like piling on, it really is a reaction to perceived arrogance," Crosby said.

A national sex abuse scandal that erupted in 2002 was sparked by revelations that many bishops moved guilty priests among parish assignments without warning parents or police.