Former Parmadale Resident Claims Abuse;
Man Says He Was Molested by a Priest 'More Than 100 Times' While at Children's Home

By James F. McCarty
Plain Dealer [Cleveland, Ohio]
April 28, 2004

Another former resident of the Parmadale children's home has accused a priest of sexually abusing him as a child 35 years ago.

Wolfgang Fifer, 49 and living in Chicago, has filed a lawsuit, accusing the Rev. Russell Banner of molesting him "more than 100 times" from the time he was 12 until he graduated from Parmadale at 14.

Banner, now 66 and retired, living in Bradenton, Fla., denied the former altar boy's allegations in a phone call Tuesday. "I have no idea where this would have come from," Banner said. "There's no grounds for these allegations whatsoever. I'm just totally floored."

Banner was suspended in 2002 as pastor of Annunciation parish in Cleveland after sex-abuse allegations unrelated to Fifer's were raised.

Eight other former Parmadale residents have sued the Catholic Charities-run home for youth in the last two years, accusing lay employees and another priest, the Rev. Joseph Seminatore, of sexually abusing them. The cases remain unresolved.

Six former Parmadale employees were indicted on sex-abuse charges in 2002.

Fifer held a news conference in front of Parmadale Tuesday to publicize his accusations. He was accompanied by members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

He filed the lawsuit under a "John Doe" pseudonym last week in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, accusing officials of the Diocese of Cleveland of being aware of Banner's criminal conduct, yet intentionally concealing it from would-be victims.

Fifer said he decided to reveal his identity to encourage victims of clergy sex-abuse to come forward and to release suppressed memories.

"I'm a whole lot better now," said Fifer, a long-haul truck-driver.

"I can't be hurt by this man anymore."

Fifer said he was sent to Parmadale after his parents divorced, and his father was unable to raise three sons by himself. There he met Banner, who was a deacon counseling children at the home on State Road. Fifer later served as an altar boy at Banner's ordination at St. John Cathedral in 1967, he said.

During high school, Fifer said Banner called him repeatedly, seeking to renew their relationship. But Fifer rebuffed him and enlisted in the Coast Guard.

Later, Fifer's life took a bad turn and he spent five years in prison for burglary, breaking and entering and misuse of a credit card - crimes he blames on psychological trauma caused by Banner.

Fifer blocked memories of the abuse for years, he said. In 2000, he asked Banner to preside over his wedding. But the priest couldn't because the wife-to-be was divorced.

Banner wonders why Fifer would seek to honor him four years ago, but accuse him now.

"He never mentioned any of this to me before," Banner said. "There might be somebody else he has me confused with."


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