More Former Students of Revered Parma Priest Nicholas Monaghan Say He Molested Them

By Michael O'Malley
Plain Dealer
June 12, 2011

The plaque honoring Nicholas Monaghan.

A recent story about a 65-year-old woman who says she was sexually abused by a Catholic priest when she was a schoolgirl growing up in Parma has prompted other women to come forward with similar allegations against the priest.

Barbara Johnson of Fort Worth, Texas, told The Plain Dealer that when she was a teenager, Monsignor Nicholas Monaghan, founder of St. Charles of Borromeo Catholic Church on Ridge Road, regularly forced himself on her, fondling her breasts and sticking his tongue in her mouth.

Since the story appeared last week, four women who attended grade school at St. Charles in the 1950s and '60s have contacted the newspaper, saying they, too, were groped and kissed by Monaghan, who died in 1967 at age 85.

Johnson, a psychiatric nurse practitioner, said she carried the emotional trauma of the abuses well into adulthood, keeping them a secret from friends and family.

But in July 2008, after undergoing seven months of therapy, Johnson came to Cleveland to present her allegations to the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland.

She said she had no intention of suing the diocese, but she asked diocesan officials to remove a plaque honoring Monaghan from the vestibule at St. Charles and to take his name off Monaghan Hall on the church campus.

The diocese refused, saying the alleged abuses happened too long ago and that there was no proof.

But for Cecelia Puls, 69, of Brunswick; Shirley Schewzow, 70, of North Royalton; Pat Barrett, 69, of Medina; and Susan Kane, 62, of University Heights -- all claiming abuse at the hands of Monaghan -- there is plenty of proof.

"Monsignor Monaghan groped me and my sister for years," Kane said. "He would put his arm around my waist and his hand would go up to my breast. He felt me up all the time, especially when I was in the eighth grade. I didn't know what to do.

"At that time you didn't say anything bad about a priest, especially him. He was a monsignor, and he walked around like a king."

Kane suggested she and the other women should organize an effort to have the plaque and name removed from St. Charles.

"A pedophile shouldn't be honored, regardless of his title," she said. "I don't think it matters how long ago it happened. It happened. And if we make a big enough stink, we might get that plaque removed."

The diocese did not respond to the latest call to remove the plaque and the name. In a prepared statement, diocese spokesman Robert Tayek said the women should contact the diocese "so that we may receive the personal accounts of any alleged sexual misconduct."

The women said Monaghan preyed regularly on the seventh- and eighth-grade girls because they were more physically developed.

"When we saw him coming, we'd whisper, 'Father Monaghan's coming!' and we would scatter," said Schewzow, who graduated from St. Charles in 1954. "While he was hugging you, somehow his hand got over your boobs and rubbed up and down while he was telling you what a good girl you were."

The women said they came forward after reading Johnson's story because they felt the Texas woman needed support.

"I went through the same experience as Barbara," said Barrett. "I never felt I needed therapy, but it has been deeply disturbing to me."

Another woman who asked that her name not be published said she recently began talking to a counselor about repeated abuses by Monaghan. She is 72 years old.

Though the diocese denied Johnson's request to remove the plaque and the monsignor's name, it did offer to pay for her therapy and has been doing so since December 2008.

Johnson said she isn't surprised that other alleged victims of Monaghan are coming forward. "Pedophiles typically abuse hundreds of children in their lifetimes," she said.

"And though I believe that Monaghan's name on the building and the plaque should be removed, as they are offensive to all who were abused by him, I believe that the most important thing is for people to speak out and seek help if needed."

Patricia Antenucci, 78, of Brook Park, was not abused by Monaghan because, she said, "I was flat as a washboard. He didn't want me."

But a friend, she said, was well-endowed and was one of Monaghan's favorites. That was back in 1943, before Monaghan was a monsignor.

Antenucci said a nun would occasionally tell the friend that the priest wanted to see her in the rectory after school. Antenucci, who walked home from school with her friend, would wait in the vestibule while the girl went up to the second floor of the rectory.

She would return about 20 minutes later with a $1 bill, her pay for sitting on Monaghan's lap and taking his kisses, Antenucci said.

"This happened several times," Antenucci said. "He was a cigar-smelling, horrible old man. I don't want to rustle his bones in his grave, but having a plaque and a building named after him is an affront to all the young, innocent girls he abused."

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