Local Priest Put on Leave in Sex Case
Queen of Martyrs Pastor Resigns
By Joann Rouse and Wes Hills
Dayton Daily News [Ohio]
April 29, 2002
Harrison Twp., Montgomery County — The Archdiocese of Cincinnati announced Sunday that it placed a Dayton-area priest on administrative leave after substantiating evidence that the Queen of Martyrs pastor sexually abused a minor at another parish years ago.
The Rev. Thomas Hopp, 61, resigned from his pastorate Wednesday, according to a statement released Sunday. The archdiocese says no allegations have emerged out of the local parish against Hopp.
"I am deeply sorry that this happened," Cincinnati Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk said in a letter read at Queen of Martyrs Masses during the weekend. "It is always painful when we learn that a person we have loved and respected has done wrong."
The disciplinary action falls on the heels of a national months-long scandal about sexual abuse by priests. The pope told U.S. cardinals meeting at the Vatican last week that pedophilia was a crime that had no place in the church. The U.S. Catholic Church has been shaken by disclosures that priests known to have molested children were merely transferred from parish to parish rather than defrocked.
The Cincinnati archdiocese is urging anyone who has been abused by Hopp or any other cleric, employee or volunteer of the archdiocese to report to civil authorities and to the Chancellor of the Archdiocese at (513) 421-3131.
Hopp's accuser, who is now in his thirties, sent the archdiocese a letter about a month ago accusing the priest of abusing him when he was a child. Hopp admitted the claims were "substantially true," said Cincinnati Archdiocese spokesman Dan Andriocca.
The archdiocese has turned over the allegation to the prosecutor of the county in which it occurred. The archdiocese on Sunday would not disclose the name of the county or when the abuse occurred.
Montgomery County Prosecutor Mathias H. Heck Jr. said Sunday that the church had advised him that Hopp would be resigning, but said he does not know if the abuse happened in Montgomery County.
"They initially believed it did, but after a short conversation, they are really unsure at this point," Heck said. "But since he was assigned here for so many years and assigned here now, they wanted me to be aware of it, and they are going to send the file to me."
Heck said his office will review and investigate the case, and will forward information to another county if the offense did not occur here.
Heck said his office has received about three other calls about abuse, primarily against other priests.
"But again these are simply calls reporting various incidents," he said. "To say that they have been substantiated or that they even involve any confirmed sexual conduct would be inappropriate at this time."
Pilarczyk offered apologies to the man and said counseling has been made available to him.
The former Queen of Martyrs pastor, the Rev. William H. Schwartz, will serve as interim pastor at Queen of Martyrs at 4144 Cedar Ridge Road until a new pastor is appointed within the next few months.
Schwartz said he read the letter to Masses Saturday night and Sunday morning to about 1,500 people.
"It was received quietly," Schwartz said. "So the people have heard about it and if they haven't, they will."
Hopp, a Cincinnati native, was ordained a priest in 1966 and has held the following parish and other assignments: assistant at Holy Family in Dayton from 1966 to 1971; teacher at Archbishop Alter High School from 1967 to 1971; Holy Family pastor in 1983-1995 and Queen of Martyrs pastor since 1995.
While on leave, Hopp may not identify himself as a priest, wear a Roman collar or administer the sacraments. Hopp also must undergo a psychological assessment and cannot serve in any parish in any capacity, according to the Archdiocese of Cincinnati's Decree on Child Protection.
Hopp will continue receiving housing and a salary from the church, but will not stay at the Queen of Martyrs rectory, Andriocca said.
"It's very difficult to defrock a priest, which is a very long process," Andriocca said. "But he could be placed on administrative leave indefinitely."
The process by which a priest may return to the ministry after claims of abuse have been substantiated is also very lengthy, Andriocca said. Hopp's return to the ministry "is not a realistic possibility given the current environment," Andriocca said.
Andriocca denied the disciplinary action reflected a new, tougher policy prompted by the recent scandals.
"We took this same step last year when Ken Schoettmer at the Queen of Peace in Millville was charged with this same thing - and it wasn't big on the news then," he said.
The Cincinnati archdiocese represents more than a half-million Catholics, 231 parishes, 113 grade schools and 11 high schools.
Heck, a devout Catholic, called the local revelation disturbing.
"It's obviously a shock to all Catholics and the Catholic Church," he said. "But the Catholic Church is dealing with it, I think, the best they can. And the way they should do it. They have to be concerned about the victims and I think that has to be their primary concern right now."
Tuesday, Heck issued a grand jury subpoena requiring the Cincinnati archdiocese to turn over information concerning allegations of sexual assaults against minors by priests and other church employees in the county since 1975. The subpoena was not prompted by any specific allegations of child abuse by priests in Montgomery County, Heck said.
Like a similar subpoena in Hamilton County, the order was prompted by a statement last month by Pilarczyk that several priests are still working in the 19-county archdiocese after facing child-abuse allegations that were substantiated by the church but never reported to police.
Under the subpoena, Pilarczyk is required to testify before a county grand jury May 17 unless the church hands over the information before then. Heck is seeking the names, addresses and phone numbers of any suspects and accusers, as well as the people who reported and investigated the allegations within the church.
The subpoena also calls for all documents, including interviews and settlement papers, related to child abuse since March 9, 1975. Heck said any offenses committed prior to that date would be outside of the statute of limitations and could not be prosecuted.
A nationwide review of Roman Catholic dioceses shows at least 176 priests suspected of molesting minors have either resigned or been taken off duty in 28 states and the District of Columbia since the clerical sex scandal erupted in January, The Associated Press has found.
The last case of a local priest involved in a sex scandal occurred in 1994 when a Philadelphia man charged Ellis N. Harsham, a part-time priest at St. Luke Catholic Church in Beavercreek, of sexually abusing him. Harsham was also the Wright State University campus ministry leader. Steven J. Cook, who by 1994 had contracted AIDS, said Harsham was a pre-seminary student in the 1970s when the abuse occurred.
Harsham and the archdiocese reached an out-of-court agreement with Cook, but Harsham never admitted the allegations. Harsham left the priesthood in 1994.
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