Priest Accused of Sex Abuse Is Found Dead

By Kaye Spector
Plain Dealer [Cleveland, Ohio]
April 5, 2002

The Rev. Don Rooney didn't show up for an appointment Wednesday with officials of the Cleveland Catholic Diocese to talk about a sexual abuse allegation against him.

Yesterday, the 48-year-old priest was found slumped over the wheel of his car, dead of a gunshot wound to the head that was apparently self-inflicted.

In keeping with its new policy on openness in the midst of a national sexual abuse scandal, the diocese last night issued a news release about Rooney's death, asking for "God's mercy upon Fr. Don and upon all of us."

In an interview later, a diocese spokesman disclosed the allegations against the priest: A woman told the church on Monday that in 1980, when she was a child, Rooney sexually abused her.

She said it happened while he was an associate pastor at Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Wadsworth, a year after Rooney was ordained. The allegation had not been substantiated.

When Rooney did not report to the meeting Wednesday, church officials called the priest's family and then filed a missing-person report, said diocese spokesman Robert Tayek. Around noon yesterday, Hinckley Township police found Rooney in his car in a drugstore parking lot. Rooney was flown by helicopter to MetroHealth Medical Center, but he was dead when he arrived.

The Rev. Dale Staysniak, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Church in Parma, where Rooney had been an associate pastor since June 1999, issued a statement yesterday expressing the parish's grief.

"As the pastor of St. Anthony Parrish and a brother priest to Fr. Rooney, I am profoundly grieved over his sudden and tragic death," the statement said. "The entire parrish staff, Fr. Don's co-workers and parishioners prayerfully extend their sympathies to Fr. Rooney's mother and family."

Members of St. Anthony said they were doubly shocked at the news of his death and the abuse allegations.

Rooney was remembered as a tall man with a good sense of humor.

"He probably couldn't face anybody after being accused of it," said parishioner Wayne Moore. "Everybody would be looking at him differently. I just feel that it was strictly an accusation until proven otherwise."

Rooney conducted Mass on Sundays at St. Anthony and often read Scripture in gatherings after services.

"We're just all in shock," said Victoria Pisano, another parishioner. "I can't believe he would take his life being a man of faith. No matter what you do, God forgives you."

Rooney grew up on Cleveland's West Side. After becoming a priest, he had moved from church to church, which is not unusual for associate pastors, Tayek said. From 1991 to 1996, Rooney was at St. Columbkille in Parma and from 1996 to 1998, he was at St. John Vianney in Mentor. He joined St. Anthony after taking a year off to care for an ailing parent, Tayek said.

The allegation Monday was the first that the diocese had received about Rooney, Tayek said. The investigation into the allegation will continue, he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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