Proposed Law Aims to Aid Abuse Victims

By Charita M. Goshay
Canton Repository [Ohio]
January 21, 2006

Last week, Thomas Gumbleton, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Detroit, sent shock waves through the statehouse in Columbus, when he revealed to a House Judiciary Committee that he had been a victim of a sexual abuse at the hands of a priest 60 years ago.

Gumbleton spoke to the committee on the issue of Senate Bill 17. As written, the law would:

n Extend the statute of limitations, during which victims could file civil charges against sexual abusers, from two years to 20 years.

n Adds clergy to those professionals required by law to report incidents of child abuse.

n Upgrades the charge for failing to report such crimes from a misdemeanor to a felony.

n Creates a "look-back" period for abuse victims who have not filed civil charges, for incidents going back as far back as 35 years, from the date the bill becomes law.

Gumbleton is not alone in his desire to see Senate Bill 17 become law. Locally, Edward G. Friedl has been a one-man army in his push for the Catholic Church to deal with the issue of pedophile priests.

A member of St. Paul's Catholic Church in North Canton, Friedl has written more than 60 letters to legislators and church officials, and has attended several hearings in Columbus. He also is involved in Voice of the Faithful, a nationwide, lay organization formed in response to the pedophile priest scandals in the Boston Archdiocese.

cancer on church?

Friedl said, although only a minute number of priests are involved, it has done tremendous damage to the church. That's due in large part to bishops' reluctance to act, he says.

"There's a lot of good priests out there, but it's been a cancer on the church that has to be taken care of," he said. "It can't be taken care of unless it's brought to the surface."

Senate Bill 17 has been unanimously approved by the Ohio Senate, but remains in the Judiciary Committee.

The Catholic Conference of Ohio has stated that it supports the bill, with the exception of the look-back provision, because it believes that retroactive legislation violates the state's constitution.

In recent years, the conference has implemented a number of measures to prevent the abuse of children, including a zero-tolerance policy, child-protection training programs, background and reference checks of employees and volunteers, review boards to advise bishops, and more stringent codes of conduct for priests and diocesan personnel.


Friedl said he thinks the conference's objection to the look-back clause is about money. He rejects the argument by some that the clause could bankrupt dioceses, saying he knows of people who have spent thousands of dollars on psychological therapy as a result of being abused.

Several Catholic dioceses around the country have filed for bankruptcy as a result of pedophile lawsuits.

"They're pleading poverty, but the biggest fear is they don't want their records exposed," he said. "These bishops are criminals in that they covered up these activities. Pedophilia is a crime.

"They (bishops) equate money at a higher level than the destroyed minds and emotions of people. I'm a Roman Catholic and always will be, but I don't agree with the way they're hiding things."

more public access

Citing the case of the Rev. Robert Burns, a convicted pedophile who served at St. Thomas Aquinas High School and parishes in Stark County, Girard, Boston and New Hampshire, Friedl said the law would furnish the public with a history of where such priests have served. Burns is in prison in New Hampshire for child rape.

The proposed law still would provide clergy with protection from any information relayed to them by way of a confession.

Among those supporting passage of the bill are members of SNAP, Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. Dan Frondorf, co-director of SNAP of Cincinnati, claims he was sexually abused by his parish priest when he was 17.

Frondorf said the law is important because it gives victims like himself a tool to stop sexual abusers from hurting others.

"The one-year 'look-back' provision will allow people like me, whose lawsuit has been dismissed, the opportunity to pursue my case in court, even though statues have expired in my case," Frondorf said.

"It's not important because I might win a settlement. It, most importantly, allows me to expose my perpetrator in a public forum instead of just having his name listed on some Web site. There will be an actual court record that will allow his name to be known if he goes to apply for a job. Right now, he's already escaped punishment criminally and civilly."


Frondorf claims the Archdiocese of Cincinnati had prior knowledge about the priest's abuse of other boys in the 1970s and 1980s, but kept transferring him to different parishes, and even assigned him to a high school.

Frondorf said he did not report the abuse to authorities until 2002, "because like a lot of survivors, I was so dumbfounded by what happened to me; I was incredulous. But I thought I was the only one. It made me ask a lot of questions about myself. It makes you think a lot of things about yourself.

"You have to understand, the west side of Cincinnati is heavily conservative, a very Catholic, Republican area," he said. "Priests are icons, almost like celebrities. It would have been very risky for me to accuse this priest."

Frondorf said he later discovered that his abuser had victimized 30 to 40 other boys.

Frondorf said he's optimistic that some version of the law will pass.

"There's sympathy in the legislature, but not enough votes to pass as it is," he said.

In a response statement to Gumbleton's testimony, Monsignor Ricardo Bass of the Archdiocese of Detroit said: "Bishop Gumbleton's experience is regrettable. No doubt, it frames his personal opinion on this matter. As we would with any person in his situation, the archdiocese stands by its commitment to provide counseling assistance as needed."

Bass said the archdiocese encourages anyone with a sexual abuse complaint to come forward.

repository julie vennitti

CATHOLIC CRUSADER Edward G. Friedl of Jackson Township discusses his efforts in supporting the passage of Ohio Senate Bill 17, a law which would expand the rights of sexual abuse victims, and would require clergy to report such incidents. Friedl said the Catholic Church has been damaged by bishops who protect abusive priests.


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