Victims, Church Still Trying to Pick up Pieces
Dioceses Nationwide Have Taken a Hit in Public Esteem, Donations While Victims Didn't Get the Reforms They Were Seeking

By Tom Beyerlein
Dayton Daily News [Ohio]
April 22, 2007

For years, Christy Miller wanted the priest who sexually abused her as a girl to be punished. Now that Thomas Brunner has been defrocked, she finds that his banishment is "a double-edged sword."

"On the one hand, you want these men to be defrocked as punishment for what they've done," Miller of Cincinnati said Friday. "But if they're defrocked, the church can wash its hands of them. No one's watching him. He has no lawsuit against him. He has no criminal record. He's more of a danger to children now than he was as a priest."

Five years after the priest sexual abuse scandal exploded, victims and Roman Catholic church leaders alike are still trying to tally up its successes and failures. They're also still debating what the church community can do to recover from the deep wounds the scandal has inflicted.

Generally, adult victims of childhood sexual abuse by priests failed to make the widespread changes in both the law and the church that they were seeking. Yet dioceses nationwide, including the 19-county Archdiocese of Cincinnati, have sustained losses in attendance and donations, huge legal bills and an incalculable loss of esteem as parishioners express their anger over bishops' long-term cover-up for priests they knew to be abusers.

"It's clear that we have been hurt. It's less clear to what degree we've been hurt," said archdiocese spokesman Dan Andriacco. "For some people who have not been touched by this, the passage of time may wear away the rough edges of the pain. There are some who have been so hurt, unfortunately, we may never regain our credibility with them."

Andriacco said the scandal has probably accelerated already flagging church attendance and, consequently, contributions. Donations to the annual Archbishop's Fund, renamed the Archdiocesan Fund, slid from $4.4 million in 2000 to $3.6 million in 2006, Andriacco said. It also "weakens our moral authority" on other issues, he said.

Andriacco said the best way for the archdiocese to regain trust is to follow the new church laws.

"We now have very strong and uniform church laws throughout the United States that I believe will be very effective in protecting our children," he said.

Victim advocates aren't so sure. They're disappointed that almost none of the abusers could be criminally charged or civilly sued because statutes of limitations have expired.

While advocates succeeded in convincing the Ohio legislature last year to extend the statute of limitations for new civil lawsuits, they failed to get a window of opportunity for victims of long-ago abuse to sue abusers and the archdiocese. The Ohio Supreme Court last year ruled against victims on the statute-of-limitations issue, invalidating a number of civil lawsuits.

"None of us got anything out of it but a big legal bill," said Daniel Frondorf, who co-founded the Cincinnati chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests with Christy Miller. He said it's a "hollow" victory that priests were defrocked. "They still have gotten away with it, criminally."

Miller said the new church laws "look good on paper, but they really haven't done anything of great significance in the last five years." She said the archdiocese could do more to train parents and children on the signs of sexual abuse. And she said Cincinnati Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk still hasn't revealed details of who protected abusers.

"They're not going to give up their secrets," Miller said. "They're not willing to say, 'We made a mistake and we're going to make some serious changes.'"

Tom Roberts is editor of the National Catholic Reporter, an independent newspaper that has been reporting about child sexual abuse by priests since 1984. He said "going forward, there should be a much more serious response to any child being abused, and that's very good." But despite the creation of diocesan review boards and zero-tolerance, "it's difficult for us to understand where justice comes in when the process is shrouded in secrecy," Roberts said.

"If the church suddenly came into all the money it needed (to compensate victims), if all of that legal stuff went away, would the church be made whole? The answer, we'd have to say, is no. There's been a breach of trust. There's never been a clear narrative, except where it's been forced out by the legal system, of who did what. No bishop is saying, 'Community, this is what happened. This is who raided the treasury to pay for silence.' The reality is, bishops can wait it out."

In the end, Roberts said, the most daunting challenge for the Catholic community may be in learning to communicate about the crisis and "get some kind of decent and just outcome after decades of doing it wrong."

"The legal stuff will all get solved eventually," he said. "The real problem is within the community. I don't know how we're going to puzzle that one out."

Timeline: Sex abuse and the church

1984: The independent National Catholic Reporter newspaper publishes reports of priests sexually abusing minors.

Late 1980s-mid 1990s: The scandal takes on nationwide proportions and U.S. bishops begin to take action. The Cincinnati archdiocese enacts a child-protection decree in 1993 and revises it in 1998, but it still allows priests who have abused youth to undergo treatment and be quietly reassigned.

2002: An investigative report in January by the Boston Globe touches off a firestorm and leads to the naming of abusive priests nationwide. Cincinnati Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk suspends the Rev. Tom Hopp in April, a month after he said fewer than five area priests had been restored to ministry after sex-abuse allegations. Several months into the crisis, the U.S. Bishops Conference enacts a zero-tolerance policy that requires the suspension of any credibly accused priest or church employee.

2003: Pilarcyzk takes the unprecedented step of pleading no contest to criminal charges on behalf of the archdiocese as an institution as part of a plea bargain with Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen. The archdiocese pays a fine and launches a $3 million compensation fund for victims who agree not to sue.

2004: A report commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops shows 4,450 U.S. priests were accused of more than 11,000 acts of child abuse from 1950-2002. That number included 33 priests accused of 87 acts in the Cincinnati archdiocese, where as many as 16 additional priests were accused in 2003.

2006: Dozens of accusers drop civil lawsuits against priests and the archdiocese after the Ohio Supreme Court rules such cases must be filed by the time the accuser is 20. The Ohio legislature extends the statute, but doesn't allow a window for the filing of lawsuits on decades-old abuse.

2007: Of 18 living priests who were suspended because of sex-abuse allegations, 10 still await a decision from the Vatican on possible defrocking. Seven have been permanently banned from ministry, while one was reinstated by the Vatican.

Tracking the priests

Here?s the status of the 18 living priests of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati who were suspended from ministry following allegations they sexually abused minors. (Dates placed on leave in parenthesis.)

Restored to ministry

James Kiffmeyer — (suspended 2002, restored 2006)

Paid administrative leave

(May not celebrate sacraments or present selves as priests)

Kenneth Schoettmer (suspended 2001)

Thomas Kuhn (2002)

Richard Unwin (2003)

David Kelley (2003)

Daniel Pater (2003)

Thomas Feldhaus (2003)

Ronald Cooper (2004)

Raymond Larger (2005)

Donald E. Shelander (2006)

David Reilly (2006)

Permanently removed from the clerical state:

(All connections to church have been removed)

Keith Albrecht (suspended 1993, removed 2005)

Thomas Brunner (2003, removed 2006)

George Cooley (1991, removed 1998)

Laurence Strittmatter (2002, removed 2006)

Ellis Harsham (1994, removed 2006)

Permanently removed from priestly ministry:

(Removed from ministry but remain under the archdiocese?s care because of health problems)

Thomas Hopp (suspended 2002, removed 2005)

Francis Massarella (2003, removed 2005)


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