2nd Allegation Revealed Another Complaint Made against Priest

By Lynn Hulsey and Tom Beyerlein
Dayton Daily News [Ohio]
April 30, 2002

Harrison Twp., Montgomery County — A church official Monday night revealed another allegation involving the Rev. Thomas Hopp and a child at Queen of Martyrs Catholic Church, but said the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati did not warn parents or authorities.

The Rev. Christopher Armstrong, chancellor of the archdiocese, said the complaint was made five years ago against Hopp, 61, who resigned as Queen of Martyrs pastor last week and was placed on administrative leave after admitting sexually abusing a boy in Shelby County in 1980.

The 1980 victim, now an adult, sent the archdiocese a detailed letter in March about the sexual abuse that he said occurred when he was a teen-ager. Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk confronted Hopp.

'Father Hopp said, 'Yes I did do this," said Armstrong, who was sent to the Harrison Twp. parish by Pilarczyk to meet with about 200 parishioners and the parents of children who attend the church, its school or its child care center.

Armstrong said the allegation involving the Queen of Martyrs child five years ago was "unconfirmed" and "anonymous," but admitted that he met with the child's parents, who declined to take the matter further.

"No one said there was sexual contact. People said the behavior (by Hopp) was odd," Armstrong said.

Armstrong kept repeating that the accuser was not willing to "take ownership" of the allegation and it was not reported to police because of the "nature" of it.

"Father Hopp was put on notice," Armstrong said.

Hopp was not supposed to be alone with children except in the confessional, said Jane Kriege of Catholic Social Services of Southwestern Ohio, who traveled with Armstrong to meet with parishioners.

One speaker at the meeting called it a "betrayal of trust" that church officials did not investigate the allegation further or warn parents five years ago.

"If you knew he was a child molester and you allowed him to be around my children, that's a problem," one mother said.

Several speakers expressed compassion for Hopp, who some said had an illness, but they lashed out at the archdiocese. Speakers said church authorities have a legal responsibility to report allegations of child abuse and they were shocked that Hopp's term at the church was renewed a year ago, despite the allegation against him. Some said Pilarczyk should have come to speak to them.

Armstrong said he would take their concerns to Pilarczyk and that a response team would be formed at the parish to deal with the crisis.

Hopp has a history of very short stints in ministerial positions across southwest Ohio in the 1970s and early '80s.

But "he wasn't moved from one place to another as a result of an allegation of substantiated abuse," Dan Andriacco, spokesman for the archdiocese, said. "I don't know why he moved so much. There's nothing in our child protection files that would indicate a reason for that (movement)."

Meanwhile, Shelby County Prosecutor James Stephenson said Monday he is investigating the allegation that Hopp abused the teen-ager while he was serving as temporary pastor of St. Michael Church in Fort Loramie. But Stephenson said he may not be able to bring criminal charges against Hopp because most sex offenses have a statute of limitations of 20 years from the time of the incident.

The victim, now in his 30s, gave the archdiocese permission to forward his letter to Stephenson's office last week, Andriacco said.

"We're taking a look at it," Stephenson said. "We'll decide what, if anything, needs to be done. Certainly, we'll be in touch with the person who wrote the letter as part of the investigation."

Hopp, priest at Queen of Martyrs since 1995, departed unannounced from the church at 4144 Cedar Ridge Road on Wednesday. Parishioners didn't know of his resignation as pastor until Saturday and Sunday, when letters from Hopp and Pilarczyk were read during Masses.

Hopp's letter didn't mention the sex abuse allegation, but said, "my greatest regret is any unfavorable notoriety the parish may experience." He said, "Queen of Martyrs has very good and strong people who will continue the tradition of reconciliation and welcome. I pray for the Lord's continued blessings on the parish."

The archdiocese has placed Hopp in a residence at another church, Andriacco said. He declined to disclose it.

Hopp, who is not allowed to present himself as a priest in public, was seen saying Mass at an unnamed Cincinnati church on Sunday, said Father William Schwartz, a former Queen of Martyrs pastor who has been appointed to take over for Hopp while his successor is chosen. Schwartz also said it was a mistake for that Cincinnati priest to allow Hopp to say Mass.

"I am stunned," Armstrong said.

Controversy has swirled around the 19-county archdiocese, which serves a half-million Catholics including those in the Miami Valley, since March, when Pilarczyk said several priests facing substantiated sex-abuse allegations still work in the archdiocese. Andriacco said Hopp is not one of the priests Pilarczyk was referring to, but the allegation arose amid the controversy.

Parishioner Virginia Smith, 73, of Butler Twp., has been a member of the Queen of Martyrs parish for 50 years. This Catholic 'from the cradle' watched five children and two grandchildren attend the school and was shocked by the news. She came to Monday night's meeting searching for answers from the archdiocese.

'It's shameful. What's it doing to his family besides us parishioners?' she said.

Senior citizen Margaret Locke, a member of the parish for 32 years, also wanted answers.

'We have seen nothing that would indicate he'd have any of these tendencies,' she said, adding that she is willing to forgive. 'If you don't have forgiveness, what's your religion about?'

Several parishioners said Hopp was loved and respected by children and adults.

"(The congregation) is very close-knit and there are just a lot of people who are hurt," longtime member Margaret Gerken said. "Everybody adored him. The thought of anything like this happening to Father Hopp is impossible. He was a very special man, a very God-like man. I'm talking about him like he's dead, but it's almost like a death in the family.

"It hasn't affected my faith and it hasn't affected the fact that we love Father Hopp, but it does throw things into a turmoil."

Don Rice of Harrison Twp., a friend of Hopp's for the past four years, said he spoke with Hopp on the telephone last Tuesday night, on the eve of his resignation, but said the priest didn't mention the impending scandal and resignation. Hopp simply said he was going to Cincinnati for his day off on Wednesday.

"He sounded weird, different, on the phone Tuesday, but it wasn't like there was anything heavy, anything big on his mind," Rice said. "It was like he was distracted."

Earlier this year, after a tidal wave of sex scandals involving priests swept the country, Rice said he joked with Hopp about the scandals, but Hopp didn't give any indication he had any secrets.

Rice said Hopp was loved by the parish children. "When Mass is over, all the kids want to hold his hand and they end up grabbing a finger or a thumb and walking out with him."

In mid-April, Hopp was one of several Dayton area priests visited by Pilarczyk during one of the archbishop's periodic trips to the area. Andriacco said it was then that Pilarczyk confronted Hopp with the letter from the accuser - and Hopp admitted the truth of the allegations.

"His memory of the details was not very good, but he abused the victim," Andriacco said.

Andriacco said one unsubstantiated complaint against Hopp was forwarded to Stephenson in Shelby County, along with the 1980 victim's letter.

Stephenson said the revelations surprised him.

"I guess this really drives home the fact that this doesn't just doesn't happen in big cities like Boston or even Cincinnati," he said. "It can happen in small towns, too."

In Fort Loramie, the news that a former pastor had been accused of child sexual abuse didn't seem to faze most people in this predominantly Catholic town. About 950 households - nearly 90 percent of the community - are members of the parish, the Rev. Steve Shaup said.

Nancy Romie, co-owner of a sporting goods store in town and a member of St. Michael since 1964, said the accusations against Hopp, even if true, "don't affect at all" her faith or her commitment to St. Michael Church. "I have a nephew who's a priest. They're human like anyone else," she said. "They're just individuals (who are causing the problem). I think it's a pretty low rate (of offenses), considering all the priests that there are and how many years it's been."

Dorothy Quinlin, who served on the St. Michael Parish Council while Hopp was pastor there, said, "I found him to be a very good priest. He took care of the duties he had there very well. There was an agreement (with the parish) when he came in that he would serve for only a brief period until a regular pastor was assigned."

Hopp also had been pastor at St. Denis Church in Versailles, 20 miles west of Fort Loramie, from 1981 to 1983. Nearly a dozen parishioners approached in Versailles on Monday afternoon declined comment on the allegations against Hopp or his tenure at St. Denis.

But the Rev. David Vincent, who has been pastor at St. Denis since July and who said he was a friend of Hopp's from their seminary years together, staunchly defended him.

"He is a very generous person, a very happy person," Vincent said. "He did one thing wrong once. To me, that does not vitiate him - that does not destroy his goodness. I don't consider one incident, one fault, something to destroy a person's character for life."

Bill Loftus, 65, part-time director of development at Queen of Martyrs, said on the way into Monday night's meeting that 'all of us have frailties.' He called it a 'real personal issue for the parish' to deal with and indicated it would require healing 'like any other tragedy.'

But he said it is too early to tell how well it will get through this.

'I'll tell you in six months,' he said. 'Hopefully, it will solidify the parish.'


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