Survivors dismiss Columbus priest sex-abuse list as ‘token measure’
By Danae King
March 04, 2019
|Ken Wilcox, who has publicly identified himself as a survivor of priest sexual abuse, responds on March 4, 2019 to the list of 34 clergy members who have been “credibly accused” of sexually abusing minors released March 1, 2019 by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus.|
Photo by Eric Albrecht
Several local survivors and victims advocates are calling a “token measure” the Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus’ release Friday of a list of 34 clergy members who have been “credibly accused” of sexually abusing minors, saying it was “too little, too late.”
“It makes me angry,” Ken Wilcox said Monday.
The 55-year-old Olde Towne East resident says he was molested by the late Monsignor Thomas Bennett as a teenager at St. Charles Preparatory School in Bexley in the early 1980s.
“What I see is what’s missing,” he said of the list. “It’s monumentally maddening for a survivor.”
The most-recent abuse case on the list occurred more than 25 years ago, according to the diocese.
That’s “just not believable,” said Carol Zamonski, leader of the Central Ohio Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), who said she has her own story of sexual abuse by a priest.
The Columbus Diocese said it created the list after reviewing files on nearly 2,000 clergy members who had served in the diocese since it was founded in 1868.
While releasing a list can help victims know they’re not alone, said Judy Jones, Midwest regional director for SNAP, an incomplete list makes people wonder who’s not included. Jones said her brother was abused by Monsignor Robert A. Brown, a priest on the Diocese of Steubenville’s list of accused. Though he was ordained and served in Columbus, he is not on the Columbus list, she said. The Diocese of Columbus said Friday it is investigating whether Brown should be added to its list.
Diocesan spokesman George Jones also said the diocese has not cross-checked its list with the lists of the other five dioceses in Ohio, but it plans to do so.
“There could be other victims ... who are still silent and scared,” Jones said.
Wilcox said the list feels very planned.
“It’s very purposeful in what they’re telling us, but they’re not telling us much of anything,” he said. “There’s got to be more. There has to be more.”
There’s also concern that the public will think those are the only priests who have abused children, Zamonski said.
She said there were at least four names not published on the Columbus Diocese list that have been turned up by Bishop Accountability, a national organization that works to track allegations of abuse by Catholic officials and publishes information on its website.
“They were in the public eye but were not put on the list,” Zamonski said.
The Columbus Diocese’s list also does not include important details, such as when the accusations were made, when the alleged abuse occurred, where the clergy members served in the diocese or where those still living are today. Of the 34 clergymen, 21 were listed as deceased.
“It’s too little, too late, and they didn’t put enough information on (the list),” said SNAP’s Jones. “They do the bare minimum. As much as they can get away with.”
None of the abuse cases involving living clergy members happened within Ohio’s statute of limitations for prosecution, Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien said in a statement.
Wilcox, whose case is outside the statute of limitations, was 17 when he said he was told by Bennett to go to his residence after school to make up a test.
He said Bennett had told him to memorize all of the American presidents, their wives and their terms in office.
Wilcox said he was reciting the presidents when Bennett told him to unzip his pants. Bennett then fondled him, he said, as he finished reciting the information.
When he was allowed to leave the locked residence, Wilcox said he got on a bus and went home, not saying anything to anyone.
“I didn’t think anyone would believe me,” Wilcox said, adding that Bennett was beloved and revered by many.
Bennett, a teacher at St. Charles Prep from 1957 until he died in 2008, is not on the diocese’s list, but he is included in a footnote in its report that says allegations against him have not been investigated yet because a case against him is currently being litigated.
Lebanon attorney Konrad Kircher filed a lawsuit in Franklin County Common Pleas Court in July on behalf of another former student, Kevin Heidtman, who alleged he was abused by Bennett during the 2002-03 school year. The suit names the diocese, Bishop Frederick Campbell and St. Charles as defendants.
Many survivors don’t report that they’ve been abused by church officials because they don’t trust diocesan officials, SNAP’s Jones said, often because the church has been keeping secrets for years when it comes to clergy members abusing children.
“They can’t be trusted. They’ve lost all credibility,” she said.
Still, Zamonski believes more survivors will come forward; it might just take time for them to gain the courage to tell their stories.
Wilcox said he called Kircher the day he saw a story about Heidtman’s lawsuit in the paper.
“I’m here mostly to encourage people who have been hurt to get help, because it works, it works,” Wilcox said, referring to therapy. “I have nothing to gain here except telling people what happened.”