Suits Say Abuse Covered up
Cleveland-Area Priests Accused of Molestation in Late '70s to Mid-'80s

By Colette M. Jenkins
Akron Beacon Journal [Ohio]
June 20, 2002

Two lawsuits filed Wednesday in Cuyahoga County allege that the Byzantine Catholic Diocese of Parma and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Cleveland covered up child sex abuse by priests.

A 25-year-old woman identified as Jane Doe filed the class-action lawsuit against the Diocese of Cleveland, alleging that she and about 20 of her female classmates who were training to become altar girls were molested by the Rev. Donald A. Rooney. He committed suicide in Hinckley Township in April after a different allegation of abuse surfaced against him. The woman alleges that he abused the girls at St. Patrick Church in Cleveland after the 1984-1985 school year.

Meanwhile, the three men who filed the lawsuit against the Parma Diocese say they were repeatedly sodomized and abused by the Rev. John Rebovich, the former pastor of St. Michael Byzantine Catholic Church in Akron. The men, identified as Joseph A. Klimko of Garfield and John Doe I and John Doe II, both of Cleveland, allege they were abused at St. Eugene Byzantine Catholic Church in Bedford from about 1978 to 1981, when they were 15 to 17 years old.

Both lawsuits seek unspecified sums in punitive damages.

The lawsuit against the Eastern Rite diocese is not the first, nor is it the first to involve Rebovich.

He was removed from his post as pastor of St. Michael in April 1990 after a lawsuit accused him of raping and sexually molesting an altar boy. It also accused the diocese of a subsequent cover-up, alleging that church officials knew of prior allegations against Rebovich in New Jersey.

The plaintiff in the 1990 suit, James Kotyk of Solon, alleged that on at least two occasions in 1980, when Kotyk was 15, Rebovich sexually molested him in the rectory of St. Eugene, where Rebovich was pastor. Kotyk said the first incident occurred on Good Friday 1980, after Rebovich took him to dinner and persuaded him to spend the night at the rectory. He said he awoke in the night to find Rebovich performing oral sex on him.

The second incident took place in August 1980, after Rebovich supplied him with mixed drinks and took him back to the rectory in a drunken state, according to the suit. That time, Kotyk alleged, he awoke to find himself naked in the pastor's bed. The lawsuit also stated that Kotyk met with diocesan officials in June 1984 and agreed not to press charges if the church removed Rebovich as pastor of St. Eugene, forced him into treatment and banned him from contact with boys. The diocese removed Rebovich from St. Eugene, but less than a month later reinstated him and that same year assigned him to St. Michael. At that time, diocesan officials said an investigation was being conducted.

In 1991, the Parma Diocese settled the Kotyk lawsuit.

Parma Diocese spokesman the Rev. Nicholas Rachford said no criminal charges were filed against Rebovich in 1990 because the prosecutor determined that the statute of limitations had run out. Rachford said that although Rebovich has not been defrocked, he has not functioned as a priest since 1990, when the church first heard of the allegations of abuse.

"He is not allowed to represent himself as a priest, and he is not allowed to carry out any priestly functions," Rachford said. "The diocese knows his whereabouts but is not at liberty to disclose that information."

The Akron Beacon Journal reported in 1991 that Rebovich was a doctoral candidate in secondary education at the University of Akron.

The allegations against Rebovich prompted the diocese in 1992 to issue a policy for responding to sex abuse allegations, Rachford said.

Rachford declined to comment on the current lawsuit, which alleges the church "ratified the priests' conduct by failing to report it" to law enforcement officials or parishioners and "habitually concealed records and reports of sexual abuse by Rebovich."

Similarly, the plaintiff in the lawsuit against the Diocese of Cleveland alleges that church officials "knew or should have known before the end of the 1984-1985 school year that Father Rooney was likely to fondle, molest or inappropriately touch another child at some time."

The plaintiff says she was prompted to file the lawsuit after allegations against Rooney by another woman surfaced this past spring. Those allegations were attached to incidents prior to those involving her and her classmates.

Cleveland Diocese spokesman Robert Tayek declined to comment on the suit, saying diocesan lawyers are reviewing it.

The plaintiff contends that she informed one of her teachers that Rooney had touched her on her chest and private parts, front and back, while "fitting their robes," that she had observed Rooney touching her classmates the same way, and that she had observed Rooney "grinding his body against the body of one of her classmates while demonstrating how to place objects on the altar."

The suit contends that the church failed to report that information to a police agency as mandated by Ohio law.

Both the Byzantine Catholic Church and Roman Catholic Church accept the authority of the pope. Byzantine Catholics, however, express church life according to the Christian East. They follow many of their own rituals and, in some countries, ordain married men.

The United States has 17 Eastern Rite dioceses and 178 Roman Catholic dioceses. Bishops in both churches are part of the body that adopted the policy Friday in Dallas on disciplining abusive priests.


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