Diocese Resists Releasing Names of Accused Priests

By Laurie Goodstein
New York Times
February 28, 2003

CLEVELAND - When a grand jury looking into sexual abuse by members of the Catholic clergy finished its work in December, it reported that it had uncovered accusations against 145 priests.

But the panel indicted just one of them, leaving parishioners to guess about the names of the others and setting off a battle over whose rights are being protected, the priests' or the youths' whom they are accused of sexually molesting.

Many sexual abuse victims and news organizations are pressing to make the records public. This week, the county prosecutor here took the unusual step of asking a judge to consider whether Ohio law allows them to be unsealed.

But the Roman Catholic Diocese of Cleveland is fighting such a move, saying it would violate the law on grand jury secrecy, which is intended to protect the confidentiality of witnesses, including abuse victims and people who are accused of but not charged with an offense.

In a letter to the prosecutor in December, the diocese threatened to sue the prosecutor if the records were released.

"We are looking to protect the identity of persons who are investigated but not charged," a spokesman for the diocese, Robert Tayek, said. "We really believe that losing the protection of privacy of such persons would serve no purpose other than to embarrass and harm those already suffering."

As the abuse crisis enveloped the church last year, the release of secret church records often served as tinder to keep the scandal burning. The crisis was touched off last year when a judge in Boston unsealed personnel files from the archdiocese there. This month, a grand jury on Long Island released a report that accused the Diocese of Rockville Centre of engineering a systematic cover-up of accused priests.

Ohio, like many states, has a law that shields the investigative materials of grand juries from public disclosure. But the law lets a judge unseal material deemed "public information."

The Cuyahoga County prosecutor, William D. Mason, did not take a position on unsealing the documents on Monday, when he asked Judge Brian J. Corrigan of the Court of Common Pleas for Cuyahoga County, who had presided over the grand jury, to decide the question.

Kim Kowalski, a spokeswoman for Mr. Mason, said he favored releasing the papers because the public had a right to know whether priests or laypeople accused of sexual abuse continued to have access to children. "We would prefer the documents be released," Ms. Kowalski said. "It's important for the community to be aware of everything that we found."

Even with the records sealed, the scope of the investigation was a bombshell for the 800,000 Catholics in the diocese. The grand jury investigated accusations against not only the 145 priests, but also 351 laypeople affiliated with or employed by the church, including teachers, principals and volunteers.

Of the laypeople, only the 10 who were indicted had their names released. Prosecutors identified more than 1,000 possible victims of sexual abuse by priests or laypeople affiliated with the church.

"It's a pretty astonishing number," said Jay Milano of Cleveland, a lawyer who filed a racketeering suit two years ago on behalf of 30 people who accused the diocese of protecting abusers. "We did have an extensive and extraordinary prosecutor's investigation. But whether it means in the end that Cleveland is different from other dioceses or that we just looked deeper, I don't think we know."

Other dioceses are confronting similar questions. In Boston, where the church faces aggressive lawyers, victims' groups and journalists, accusations have been announced against more than 135 priests.

In Baltimore, Archbishop William H. Keeler voluntarily published the names of about 80 people accused of abuse found in church personnel files going back as far as 50 years. The grand jury on Long Island said the diocese had protected at least 58 abusive priests.

Last year, the Cleveland Diocese announced that it had found 28 priests with credible accusations against them and that 15 remained in the ministry. The others were dead, had left the priesthood or were no longer in the ministry, said Mr. Tayek, the diocesan spokesman. The diocese put the 15 priests on administrative leave, and a sexual abuse review board will examine their cases, Mr. Tayek said.

Cleveland is among the few dioceses that have not convened an independent review board, a step that the Catholic bishops agreed to take at their meeting in June in Dallas.

Mr. Tayek said that Bishop Anthony M. Pilla convened a commission last year to establish the rules for the review board and that the rules panel plans to finish its work imminently. The diocese will then seek applications from prospective members of the review board.

Mr. Tayek said the diocese could not account for the gap between the 28 accused priests whom the diocese acknowledges and the 145 whom the grand jury investigated.

"You'd have to ask the prosecutor," he said. "I'm not trying to be flip."

Mr. Mason declined to comment. His spokeswoman, Ms. Kowalski, said many of the 145 priests faced accusations dating from 20 to 50 years ago.

She said the grand jury investigation took eight months and involved 29 prosecutors who interviewed more than 700 witnesses and collected more than 50,000 documents from the diocese, Catholic schools and parishes, county child protective services, doctors and counselors. Bishop Pilla and Auxiliary Bishop A. James Quinn were subpoenaed and testified.

The inquiry produced few indictments because the cases were beyond the statute of limitations, had insufficient evidence, amounted to double jeopardy or the accused had died. Of the 10 laypeople indicted, eight worked for a diocesan residential center for abused children.

Many of those interviewed here said Judge Corrigan could take his time and ultimately decide to release the files selectively. He can ask witnesses whether they want their names made public and omit them.

Nancy J. King, a professor at the Vanderbilt University Law School, said there were good reasons for secret grand jury reports and proceedings.

"Secrecy protects not only those who might be innocent," Professor King said. "It also protects witnesses. If they knew that everything they said would be spread across the front page, they might be less willing to be forthcoming before the grand jury."

One reported victim who spoke on condition of anonymity said she wanted to see the documents made public. She has sued a priest and the diocese but remained anonymous and did not testify to the grand jury because, she said, the priest had stalked and threatened her. She said that he remained in the ministry and that she hoped that the judge would conceal victims' names while exposing the abusers.

"I think," the woman said, "they should make all the names of the priests accused public, to give the survivors a chance to realize, `Wow, it happened to someone else.' People feel they need to walk around on a daily basis and hide what happened to them, just because of the shame and the guilt."

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