Lawsuit Accuses Manatee Ex-Priest of Sexual Abuse

By Brian Haas and Aimee Juarez
Bradenton Herald
April 29, 2004

A former Catholic priest living in Bradenton is being accused of sexually abusing a student in the late 1960s while he was the student's counselor.

In a lawsuit filed last week in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court in Ohio, Wolfgang Fifer, 49, contends that the Rev. Russell Banner, 66, repeatedly molested him from 1967 through 1969 while Fifer was a resident and student at Parmalade, a Catholic children's home and school in Ohio. In a phone interview with the Herald on Wednesday night, Banner's Cleveland-based attorney William Danko said the accusations are unfounded. "It's totally incredulous and there's no substance to it whatsoever," he said. "It's unfortunate this individual has made these accusations."

The Herald obtained a copy of the lawsuit, which was filed on April 20. The lawsuit, which was filed against the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, the Catholic Charities Services Corporation and Parmalade, seeks damages from the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland for failing to protect Fifer.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer has chronicled the lawsuit and wrote that Banner was suspended in 2002 from the Annunciation Parish in Cleveland.

According to the lawsuit, Fifer claims he learned of Banner's suspension in late February or early March this year.

The lawsuit states Fifer's wife had "conducted an Internet search and discovered that Fr. Banner had been accused of sexually molesting other boys and had been suspended by the diocese as a result of the charges that were leveled against him."

The lawsuit contends that the Cleveland diocese, Catholic Charities and Parmalade "negligently failed to do anything to prevent Fr.

Banner from committing acts of sexual abuse against (the) plaintiff or other boys."

Any priest suspended from church duties is not allowed to hold Catholic church services, according to the Catholic Diocese of Venice.

Danko said Banner now lives in Bradenton for health reasons.

"It's one of those things that causes damage -- when comments and accusations have no foundations in truth," Danko said. "It's a difficult thing to deal with."


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