Updated: Parma Parish Removes Plaque Honoring Late Priest Accused of Molesting Schoolgirls

By Michael O'Malley
Plain Dealer
June 15, 2011

This plaque honoring the late Rev. Nicholas Monaghan has been taken down from the vestibule of St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Parma after a number of women said the late priest molested them when they were schoolgirls.

- St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church has removed a plaque there that honored the late priest recently accused by women of molesting them decades ago when they were schoolgirls.

Church leaders also took his name off a parish building.

Recent stories in The Plain Dealer detailed allegations from seven women who said they were repeatedly groped and kissed by the Rev. Monsignor Nicholas Monaghan when they were in the seventh and eighth grades back in the 1950s and '60s.

Robert Tayek, spokesman for the Cleveland Catholic Diocese, said Wednesday that St. Charles' parish council, along with the church's pastor, the Rev. John Carlin, decided to remove Monaghan's name and the plaque, which honors him as the parish's founder.

Tayek said that Carlin, who left this week on a vacation in Ireland and could not be reached, has written a letter on the matter to be distributed to parishioners this Sunday during Masses.

"Based on what they were hearing, they thought it was the right move to make," said Tayek. He said the signs were removed on Tuesday.

Tayek said the diocese had hoped to get more information directly from the victims, "But the pastor and parish council felt there was enough to make a move. It was their decision. We have to go along with it."

Barbara Johnson, the 65-year-old Texas woman who made the initial allegation said Wednesday that she was both "shocked" and "relieved" that the plaque and name are gone.

Johnson credited the other women who came forward with similar allegations after her story was published earlier this month.

"I hope all his victims -- many of whom chose not to speak out -- will find help," said Johnson. She also credited St. Charles, the place where she received the sacraments of confession, confirmation, holy communion and matrimony.

"I believe this action -- taking the plaque down and removing the name -- speaks to the character of the people at St. Charles," said Johnson.

She had told The Plain Dealer that Monaghan repeatedly fondled her breasts, kissed her and stuck his tongue in her mouth when she was a student at St. Charles grade school.

Johnson, of Fort Worth, said the encounters deeply traumatized her and she kept them a secret through her adulthood, not even telling her family.

In January 2008, she began seeing a therapist, paid for by the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth. In July of that year, at the urging of her therapist, Johnson came to Cleveland to tell her story to the diocese here.

She asked that the plaque bearing Monaghan's image and his name on the building be removed, saying they honored a pedophile. But the Cleveland diocese refused, saying the alleged abuses occurred too long ago and the accused was long dead. The diocese did offer to pay for her therapy and has been doing so since December 2008.

Since reading Johnson's story, about a dozen women have contacted The Plain Dealer, saying they too were victims of Monaghan.

One of those women is Cecelia Puls, 69, of Brunswick, who welcomed the news Wednesday that the plaque and name had been removed.

"It's about time," she said. "I'm pleased that so many women came forward to support Barbara Johnson. After all these years, we finally exposed it."

Shirley Schewzow, 70, of North Royalton, who said she was abused by Monaghan when she was 12, said, "I'm happy to know that when I now drive past St. Charles I won't have to see his name on the parish hall."

Susan Kane, 62, of University Heights, who said both she and her sister were abused by Monaghan, said "Monsignor Monaghan tarnished his own name. There should not be a plaque honoring the legacy of a man who molested young, innocent girls. St. Charles did the right thing."

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:, 216-999-4893


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