Prosecutor: Diocese Cooperating on Priest Allegations

By Dennis M. Mahoney
Columbus Dispatch (Ohio)
April 6, 2002

The Franklin County prosecutor said yesterday that he has obtained information from the Columbus Roman Catholic Diocese about allegations of sexual misconduct by priests.

Ron O'Brien said he met with diocesan attorney Paul D. Ritter, who "provided to me information that I requested and all information relating to these issues, and has offered to produce without subpoena any documents we believe we need to review."

O'Brien refused to say what information he requested and received, or whether he will ask for more. He also declined to say whether he considers the matter closed.

"I read on the Internet the newspapers from all across the state and the country and it's become a circus, and I don't want to see that happen here," he said.

Since the revelation last year that church officials in Boston had long covered up misconduct by priests, prosecutors in Ohio and elsewhere have asked dioceses to produce information about allegations of sexual abuse by priests.

Bishop James A. Griffin was out of town and unavailable for comment yesterday.

In a statement, the diocese said it had met with O'Brien and had "reaffirmed that there are no civil or criminal cases pending against any priest of the Diocese of Columbus, confirmed that the Diocese of Columbus has promptly reported allegations in the past to the proper authorities, and assured the prosecuting attorney's office that, in the future, the Diocese of Columbus will report any allegation of abuse made known to the diocese to appropriate legal authorities."

The statement is similar to one issued in early March. The statements have been the only comments from the diocese on the national reports of sexual abuse of children by priests.

Tom Berg, spokesman for the diocese, said he did not know what information had been turned over to O'Brien. Ritter could not be reached for comment.

In Cincinnati, Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk agreed to turn over information to the Hamilton County prosecutor after it was subpoenaed.

Pilarczyk has said that some priests accused of child abuse still are working in the archdiocese but have undergone treatment and are in positions in which problems will not recur.

The Columbus diocese has 108 parishes and about 175 priests. It comprises 23 counties in central and southern Ohio.

In recent years, two Columbus diocesan priests have been convicted of molesting boys and served time in prison.

In 1989, the Rev. Thomas McLaughlin, then pastor at Church of the Resurrection in New Albany, pleaded guilty to molesting a 12- year-old boy at the priest's cottage at Indian Lake in Logan County. In exchange for the plea, he was not charged with crimes involving molestation of six other boys.

McLaughlin was in prison for a year. He is no longer a priest.

In 1994, the Rev. Michael Hanrahan pleaded guilty to molesting a boy and served three years in prison. With his plea, he avoided prosecution in cases involving two other boys.

The molestation occurred when Hanrahan was serving at St. Ladislas Church on the South Side and St. Christopher Church near Grandview Heights. He, too, is no longer a priest.

Victims in those cases sued McLaughlin and Hanrahan and the diocese. The suits were settled; terms have remained secret because of confidentiality agreements.

Daniel Volkema, a Columbus lawyer who represented plaintiffs in the Hanrahan suit, said he reached a satisfactory monetary settlement for his clients. He said the diocese insisted that the amount not be revealed.

Volkema said the diocese offered a settlement after the court ordered it to turn over what he called the "secret archive file" on Hanrahan. He described that as a personnel file on a problem priest that is kept separate from standard personnel files.

The order came after the diocese refused to turn over the file. Volkema said that because the suit was settled, he never saw Hanrahan's file.

Thomas Tyack, a Columbus lawyer who represented victims in the civil suit against McLaughlin, said he could not discuss the case because of the confidentiality agreement.

In the mid-1980s, members of a religious community were accused of sexually abusing residents of a home for mentally retarded males near Wakefield in Pike County. About 70 miles south of Columbus, Wakefield is in the diocese.

Members of the Brothers of the Good Shepherd were removed from the home. One, Robert Hayden, was sentenced to a year in prison after pleading guilty to sexual battery. Brothers take religious vows but are not priests.


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