Dioceses Cope Differently with Scandal
Cincy Archdiocese Isn't Only District That Has to Deal with Sex Abuse

By Christine Willmsen
Dayton Daily News
May 12, 2002

DAYTON - Outside of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, each of Ohio's five dioceses has addressed their parishioners and priests on the recent sex scandal that continues to stain the Catholic Church.

Many have ongoing investigations and have placed several priests on paid administrative leave. Some of the dioceses have been open in discussing priests who have sexually molested children, and others have refused to comment on the allegations. In Cleveland, the largest diocese in the state with more than 800,000 Catholics, officials face a slew of allegations and complaints that date back to the '70s and '80s.

Bishop Anthony Pilla publicly named nine priests who have been placed on administrative leave because of allegations voiced in March. He also listed 12 priests who are no longer active priests because of past abuse of minors.

"The issue of sexual abuse is a matter of open and public discussion," he said in an April 8 announcement. "While this is often painful, it allows us to address the issue more directly. In this way, all of us can become more alert to the dangers, more protective of potential victims, more pastorally responsive to those who have been victims of abuse and more effective in dealing with those responsible for the abuse of minors."

Recently, Pilla and diocese officials have been advised by attorneys not to speak about allegations of sex abuse because they've been subpoenaed by the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office.

While public criticism of the church's handling of abuse allegations grows throughout the nation, the Columbus diocese has removed one priest from a parish temporarily.

The Rev. Joseph Fete sexually molested a minor from 1976-1979. After discovering the abuse in 1999, the diocese placed him on administrative leave and agreed to a financial settlement with the victim. The priest received counseling and was placed at St. Margaret of Cortona Church.

However, he was transferred out of that church two weeks ago, and works as a liaison with other denominations and faiths.

Communications Director Tom Berg said Fete hasn't been accused of any other sexual allegations, but has been put on leave until the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in June, when church policies may change.

"In today's environment, we have to take every step to assure the public that their children are safe," Berg said.

In the early 1990s, two priests in the Columbus diocese were laicized, or defrocked, after being convicted of sexually molesting boys.

The Rev. Thomas McLaughlin plead guilty in 1989 to molesting a 12-year-old boy, in exchange for the prosecutor dropping charges involving six other boys. He served one year in prison.

The Rev. Michael Hanrahan served three years in prison for molesting a boy. In 1994, he plead guilty to sex abuse charges in exchange for the prosecution dropping cases involving two other boys.

In the Toledo diocese, Bishop James Hoffman placed the Rev. Robert Fisher, pastor at St. Michael Catholic Church, on administrative leave last week because of the recent public concern.

Fisher sexually abused a 14-year-old girl in 1988 and pleaded guilty to sexual imposition. After spending one month in jail, Fisher received four years of counseling and was allowed to continue in the ministry in 1992.

"The Bishop told the parish his background and they were open to receiving him" at St. Michael, said communication director, the Rev. Tom Quinn.

A woman who says she was sexually abused by the Rev. Chet Warren more than 30 years ago is seeking $1 million in damages from the Toledo diocese for failing to prevent further abuse.

Warren was forced to retire in 1993 after an additional allegation of sexual abuse.

Quinn said there have been allegations against three other priests in the last 20 years, but those priests are dead.

A committee, first formed in 1995 to write the Toledo diocese policies on abuse, has been reactivated to review procedures.

While other dioceses are turning over information to prosecutors, the Steubenville diocese, which includes 13 counties, and the Youngstown diocese, which includes six counties, have remained untouched by the scandal.

"At the present time, no priests of the diocese are under any investigation," communication director, the Rev. Gerald Calovini, said. "There are no pending or threatened lawsuits."

Calovini would not comment on previous sexual abuse cases.

In the Youngstown diocese, there are no priests on administrative leave and there are no pending investigations, Chancellor Nancy Yuhasz said.

However, two priests - the Revs. Robert Burns and John Hammer - who sexually molested children were barred from continuing to work in the Youngstown diocese in the 1980s. Burns transferred to the Archdiocese of Boston, where he was accused of molesting at least five boys while he was vicar and altar boy instructor at a parish. In 1996, he was convicted of molesting a boy in New Hampshire.

Last week, Hammer resigned as pastor of two parishes in the Saginaw, Mich., and admitted to parishioners that he had sexually molested a boy when he was a priest at an East Liverpool church in 1985.


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