Controversy Spurs Prayers

By Roger Vozar
April 18, 2002

Instead of questioning their faith, area Catholics are responding with prayer to reports of sexual abuse among priests.

"I guess there may be a problem with some priests, but this all goes back so many years," said Kathleen Rowinski, a parishioner at St. Monica's Church in Garfield Heights, where Rev. Raymond Bartnikowski served as pastor from 1969-1974.

Bartnikowski is on administrative leave from his most recent assignment at St. Vincent Church in Richfield while allegations against him are being investigated.

Rowinski cautioned that an accusation doesn't mean someone is guilty and hoped people wouldn't look at all members of the clergy in a bad light because of the current crisis.

"Just because there are a few priests who have problems - and people who take advantage of situations - I don't think you can say every priest is bad," added Rowinski, who said the important thing is to pray for the accused priests and the church.

Monica Ciptak, who has a son in St. Monica's school, said people should pray that such abuse will never happen again.

"I think it's extremely sad. I think the people who do such things have some powerful problems, and if these charges are true, I feel sad for the children," she said.

St. Monica parishioner MaryAnn Stanko said the current firestorm of abuse cases suggested that Satan's out to get the Christians. However, she said she also could see the vulnerability factor among priests.

"They're human beings like everyone else, and they make mistakes," she said. "The people who do these things need to be punished, but there's good and bad (priests)."

The complaint against Bartnikowski was brought by a woman who told a counselor she was abused in 1967. Garfield Heights Police Department Capt. Joe Bednarski said it's possible that the priest was not working in Garfield Heights at the time of the alleged incident.

Police have little information about the incident because the alleged victim has refused to cooperate.

"She doesn't want to talk to us," Bednarski said.

Rev. Anthony Rebol, a retired pastor who has lived at St. Basil the Great Catholic Church in Brecksville for the past four and half years, has denied allegations that he sexually abused someone. Rev. Bill Dickinson, associate pastor at St. Basil, said Rebol served at St. Lawrence Church in Cleveland for many years prior to his retirement.

The person who accused Rebol reported the incident, alleged to have occurred in 1963, 10 years ago.

Dickinson said his parish has received no complaints about Rebol, who the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland removed from St. Basil on April 8. "He'd help us occasionally with services at St. Basil," Dickinson said. "He was a pleasure to live with, a faithful man and very humorous."

The Rev. Walter Jenne, St. Basil pastor, said in a letter to parishioners that he is "very sad about this situation in a church diocese and parish."

"I am sincerely sorry for any and all suffering this brings to our parish and all parishioners," Jenne wrote.

Answers that may provide closure aren't expected any time soon, if ever. Kimberly Kowalski, public information officer for the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office, said it will be time consuming to build cases that go back 20 years or more.

"It's going to take a lot of work. I would think it will be months (before a decision is made regarding criminal charges)," she said.

The Catholic Diocese of Cleveland has indicated it will cooperate with a grand jury subpoena issued April 5. Prosecutor William Mason demanded that the diocese turn over all records dealing with allegations of sexual abuse by priests.

"We have no idea what we're going to get," said Kowalski, who added that it appeared that the diocese intends to fully cooperate with Mason's demands.

Further complicating prosecution is the possibility that the statute of limitations - most likely six years in most cases - may have run out, according to Kowalski. The statute of limitations for many sexual offenses is now 20 years, but may have been less at the time of the alleged incidents.

Kowalski said there's a chance that cases can be prosecuted based on a 1999 state law dealing with incidents in which victims repress their memories of the sexual abuse. If the victim doesn't remember until later, the statute of limitations clock doesn't start until they remember or turn 18, she said.

Staff writers Mary Davies, John Kametz and Pat Salemi contributed to this report.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.