Victims' Group Calls on Diocese to Explain Cover-up with Police

By Joe Mahr
Toledo Blade [Toledo OH]
August 4, 2005

After revelations the Catholic diocese worked with law enforcement to conceal sex-abuse cases for 50 years, a priest and a local victims' advocacy group are demanding church leaders answer questions about the diocese's role in the cover-up.

The local chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests plans to deliver a letter to church headquarters today, calling on Bishop Leonard Blair and others to explain, in a public forum, how the diocese handled the sexual-abuse crisis.

"We think he owes us - all of us - nothing less than the full, unabridged truth, from start to finish, and we haven't gotten that," said Claudia Vercellotti, co-leader of the Toledo SNAP chapter.

The Rev. Stephen Stanbery, a past critic of the diocese's handling of the sex-abuse crisis, singled out Auxiliary Bishop Robert Donnelly and the Rev. Michael Billian, the Episcopal Vicar for Administration, for their handling of the case of former priest Dennis Gray, accused by a dozen boys of raping and abusing them in the 1980s.

"If they're not prepared to submit to questions, they should resign," said Father Stanbery, who called previously for the pair's resignation after revelations of what the diocese knew about the Gray case.

The requests come days after a Blade investigation revealed those sworn to enforce the law and protect children aided and abetted the diocese repeatedly in covering up sexual abuse by priests. In five cases, law enforcement in northwest Ohio refused to investigate or arrest a priest suspected of sexual abuse.

The investigation found that, as far back as 1958, Toledo police knew about cases of priests molesting children and turned a blind eye. Four former officers told The Blade that there was an unwritten order by then-Chief Anthony Bosch, a devout Catholic, not to arrest priests.

After Chief Bosch retired in 1970, the policy remained ingrained in department culture, with the diocese hiring officers to moonlight as private investigators. The moonlighting officers would quietly investigate allegations of clerical sexual abuse but report the findings only to the diocese, according to one of those officers, retired Detective John Connors, and the diocese's former spokesman, Jim Richards.

In the case of three priests formally investigated or arrested since the 1980s, their case files have been concealed from public view, effectively giving those priests no criminal record. That's despite the diocese saying the allegations against each were "credible."

The Blade investigation also found that one priest received a sentence far shorter than most pedophiles convicted of a similar crime, and that, in three cases, authorities delayed or dismissed investigations of priests suspected to be sexual abusers.

The revelations follow a 2002 Blade investigation that showed the diocese covered up the crimes of pedophile priests for decades, moving some from parish to parish without informing members of either church.

The diocese has declined to detail how it worked with authorities to conceal cases and wouldn't respond to questions from The Blade yesterday.

Bishop Blair said this summer that the diocese is doing "everything humanly possible to address past acts of sexual abuse and to protect children and young people from sexual abuse in the future."

That answer isn't enough for victims' advocates like Ms. Vercellotti, who say the bishop and top diocese leaders should participate in a "town-hall-style meeting" to answer questions about the cover-up.

"The heart of my faith is reconciliation," said Ms. Vercellotti, a practicing Catholic, "but we can't get to the point of reconciliation without getting an acknowledgement of what went on - without it getting spun, put out piecemeal, and marginalized."