Priest Accused of Abuse Kills Self
Rev. Don Rooney Faced Sex Allegation from Stint at Wadsworth Church

By Carol Biliczky and Andrea Misko
Akron Beacon Journal [Ohio]
April 5, 2002

Facing a meeting with Catholic Church officials over allegations that he had sexually abused a Wadsworth resident 20 years ago, the Rev. Don A. Rooney pulled into a drugstore parking lot yesterday and, officials say, shot himself.

Rooney, 48, a priest at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Parma, was dead on arrival yesterday at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland.

"I don't want to come off that the diocese is drawing conclusions. But you can kind of put two and two together," said Bob Tayek, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland.

Just two days ago, Bishop Anthony Pilla told the news media that he was aware of at least one more allegation of sexual abuse by a priest in the Cleveland diocese — a national crisis in the Catholic Church that has spread to Northeast Ohio.

The scandal of abusive priests emerged in Boston in January with the disclosure that former priest John J. Geoghan had been moved from parish to parish after being accused. Since January, dozens of priests out of more than 47,000 nationwide have been suspended or forced to resign.

Although Pilla did not name names, he already was aware of the allegation by the unidentified Wadsworth woman, Tayek said.

Allegation made Monday

Tayek gave this account of events over the last several days: He said the woman called the Rev. John Murphy, the diocese's vicar for clergy and religious, on Monday and told him she had been sexually abused by Rooney in 1980 when Rooney was a newly ordained associate pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Wadsworth.

Diocesan officials tried to reach Rooney by phone on Monday and finally got in touch with him on Tuesday. They asked him to attend a meeting at the diocese office in downtown Cleveland on Wednesday morning, but didn't tell him the reason for the meeting.

Rooney didn't show up for that meeting, however, and church officials couldn't reach him at the church rectory or parish office on State Road in Parma. Then they notified the Wadsworth police, Cuyahoga County Children Services and Rooney's family. Relatives said they didn't know where he was and asked to meet with diocese officials. At the resulting meeting yesterday, the family and church officials decided to notify Parma police that Rooney was missing.

Within hours, they learned he had apparently shot himself in the head outside the Medina County CVS drugstore, just over the Cuyahoga County line. He was taken by helicopter to the Cleveland hospital and pronounced dead at 12:37 p.m.

No witness to shooting

Hinckley police Sgt. Tom Beavers said no one witnessed the shooting, but many people had seen Rooney sitting in his car alive, apparently just before the shooting.

Rooney was found slumped over in the driver's side of his 1997 green Buick LeSabre. He was not wearing a seat belt, and the car's engine was not running.

Police arrived at 11:58 a.m., 15 to 20 minutes after they believe Rooney shot himself in the right temple with a 9 mm handgun. The bullet exited his left temple and has not been found, Beavers said. He would not say to whom the gun was registered.

Rooney still was breathing when police arrived, but he was not responsive.

Suicide note left

He left a suicide note, said Beavers, who declined to discuss the content.

Police said evidence doesn't indicate that Rooney ever entered the drugstore.

"There is a beautiful scenic view from the parking lot if you look northeast," Beavers said. "I'm making the assumption that he was reflecting on life."

A manager at the CVS at Boston Road and West 130th Street declined to comment other than to say that workers were allowed to go home early yesterday.

Beavers said police had no idea when they arrived that Rooney was a priest. He was not wearing traditional priest's clothing, police say.

The gun, the letter, the car and its contents have been confiscated as evidence, Beavers said.

The Rev. John Garrity, pastor of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Berea, said he knew Rooney well. "He was a well-respected and quiet guy," Garrity said. "I was never stationed with him. I have no negative remarks about him."

Served several parishes

Diocesan spokesman Tayek said Rooney was ordained in 1979; his first assignment, at Sacred Heart, ran until 1984.

After that, Rooney served at several Cleveland-area parishes: St. Patrick's in the Cleveland neighborhood of West Park from 1984 to 1989; St. Margaret Mary in South Euclid from 1991 to 1996; and St. Columbkille in Parma from 1996 to 1999. He had been the associate pastor at St. Anthony, which serves 3,300 families, since 1999.

Tayek said he didn't know Rooney and wasn't aware of any health or family problems that could have driven him to desperation. He didn't think the priest had been in counseling.

"It's of great sorrow," Tayek said. "What we're dealing with is the tragic death of a priest and the grieving mother and family and, frankly, for the alleged victim."

Hinckley police are investigating the shooting. The Cuyahoga County coroner's office is to perform an autopsy today.


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