Bishop Accountability
  Archdiocese found guilty of criminal charges

By Kimball Perry
Cincinnati Post
November 21, 2003

On the street, at the grocery store, watching ball games, Mike Allen has received the angry messages repeatedly and clearly -- "Hold them accountable."
"Them" referred to officials and employees of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati who committed crimes by not reporting to police allegations that priests had molested children.

Prosecutor Mike Allen Thursday held the Archdiocese of Cincinnati to the highest standard of accountability as a judge found the archidiocese guilty of five misdemeanor crimes.

To settle an often bitter 18-month legal battle with prosecutors who wanted access to archdiocese documents, Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk walked into court Thursday and admitted that five times from 1979 to 1982 archdiocese officials were told of allegations of sexual abuse of children by priests and "knowingly failed" to report it.

With the archdiocese facing the possibility of losing a court fight that would force it to release documents that could outline those allegations to prosecutors, lawyers for the archdiocese approached Allen about a possible settlement.

For days, both sides negotiated.

The result was Thursday's court appearance by Pilarczyk and the criminal conviction of the archdiocese -- the first time, Allen said, any archdiocese in the country has been convicted for its role in priest abuse cases.

"This case is unprecedented in our country," Allen said.

"The depth of the public's anger and frustration with the leadership of the Catholic Church rivals that expressed to me about any case since I have been prosecutor."

That anger was reflected by the comments from Common Pleas Court Richard Niehaus after he convicted the archdiocese of the crimes and fined it $10,000.

"I believe that this case today is an extremely tragic event," Niehaus, who identified himself from the bench as Catholic and Catholic school educated, told Pilarczyk. "I believe that a religious organization that not only should follow the civil law but also the moral law lost its way."

The judge also criticized the church for covering up the crimes and allegations of sexual molestation by priests "at the expense of the victims."

"I am disappointed as a citizen that any religious organization would be involved in criminal activity ... such that I believe self-preservation exceeded their moral duty to minister to those people and to prevent future abuse."

The battle was ignited in March 2002 when Pilarczyk announced the archdiocese continued to employ priests who were accused of sexually abusing children.

" -- (M)y immediate questions were, who were these priests and who did they abuse, and are they in a position to abuse again?" Allen said Thursday.

A 2002 special grand jury was empanelled to investigate but was released. A second special grand jury was selected last week but never heard evidence because of the settlement negotiations.

Two of the five priests, Allen admitted, were David Kelley and Lawrence Strittmatter. Both were later placed on administrative leave by the archdiocese.

Kelley is a former teacher at Elder High School -- the prosecutor's alma mater. Allegations of abuse against Kelley were reported to Strittmatter, at the time the Elder principal.

Allen said he "wasn't permitted" to name the others involved.

The prosecutor insists Thursday's court proceedings -- the end of prosecutors' criminal investigation of the issue -- was a major victory for his office even though no one went to jail.

According to Allen, the proceeding constituted a victory because it:

• Was an admission of wrongdoing by the archdiocese.

• Provided a measure of accountability.

• Establishes a process that is supposed to prevent any future abuse.

Part of the deal also called for the archdiocese to hand over to prosecutors many of the documents being fought over. Allen said his office is reviewing 10,000 pages of those documents.

An archdiocese attorney, though, said none of the archdiocese documents were handed over that would have resulted in a violation of the attorney-client privilege between the church and its attorneys. Prosecutors in court hearings have suggested the church might have tried to circumvent the process of reporting sexual abuse allegations by reporting them to their attorneys and then tried to hide behind that privilege to reveal the documents.

Allen's office also this week questioned "under oath" four archdiocese officials who would have knowledge of any allegations of sexual abuse by priests. Allen strongly suggested one of those four was Pilarczyk but declined to name names.

In the agreement, archdiocese officials have agreed to reporting procedures more stringent than now required by Ohio law.

They will notify the prosecutor's office any time there is an allegation of sexual abuse; the requirement now is to notify law enforcement "any time one has knowledge of a felony being committed," Allen said.

That condition was included so trained police and professionals would deal with abuse claims instead of archdiocese investigating such allegations.

"We are satisfied that there is no priest practicing in the archdiocese who has a substantiated case of abuse against him," Allen said.

Allen deflected criticism that the $10,000 fine the archdiocese paid to end the case was too light.

Instead, he said, prosecutors accomplished everything they set out to with the investigation.

"This isn't a plea bargain," Allen said. "We gave up absolutely nothing in this case."

His office would have had difficulty prosecuting a case against individuals for the same reason two civil suits making sexual abuse allegations have been dismissed -- the abuse is alleged to have happened in the 1980s and before.

That means defendants in those cases can't be prosecuted now because the statute of limitations has run.

There was "no proof beyond a reasonable doubt" that would have resulted in a conviction anyway, he said.

"I can tell you today that we have done exactly what the citizens of Hamilton County and this office felt was required," Allen said.

"We have held them accountable, and we believe we have taken steps to make sure what took place in the Catholic Church over the last several decades will not happen again."


Original material copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.