Tuesday, June 11, 2002

Priests' names still secret


Archdiocese sticks with policy on wayward clergy

By Dan Horn, dhorn@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Catholic church officials say they will continue to keep secret the names and assignments of four Greater Cincinnati priests who have a history of sexual misconduct.

        The controversial policy came under fire again this weekend after a fifth priest, who also had been protected by the church, was suspended because of new allegations of misconduct.

        The priest, the Rev. Lawrence Strittmatter, is a former Elder High School principal accused of sexually abusing two students in the late 1970s.

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        Law enforcement officials have criticized the secrecy policy for months, but Father Strittmatter's suspension has raised new concerns about the remaining four priests and the wisdom of protecting their identities.

        “We're all wondering who they are,” said Tom Otten, the current principal at Elder. “There's a lot of speculation because this is twisting out there in the wind.

        “I wish they would just get them out.”

        The policy began in March when Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk announced that the Archdiocese of Cincinnati employs “fewer than five” priests with histories of sexual misconduct.

        The archdiocese later revised that statement, saying the number of priests on the list was five. Three of the priests, including Father Strittmatter, worked in Greater Cincinnati ministries, one was semi-retired and one was assigned overseas.

        When he announced the policy, Archbishop Pilarczyk said the priests' identities would not be made public to protect the priests and their victims.

        He said the priests had received treatment and were under close supervision to ensure they stayed away from children.

        The archbishop said Sunday that Father Strittmatter's identity was being revealed because the church had learned only recently about a second allegation involving a former Elder student.

        But Father Strittmatter's case will not change the church's policy of keeping the names of the others secret.

        “We're trying to do the right thing on a case-by-case basis,” said Tricia Hempel, spokeswoman for the archdiocese. “Looking at the other four priests, you can't abuse their rights simply because you think (the old allegations) are going to come out eventually.”

        She said none of the priests has been the subject of new allegations, and she noted that even the recent allegation against Father Strittmatter dates back to the 1970s. Father Strittmatter did not deny the allegations, Ms. Hempel said.

        She said Father Strittmatter might not have been suspended Sunday if the most recent victim to come forward had not insisted on his removal.

        Church officials do not believe any of the priests are a threat to the public. “These decisions were not made lightly,” Ms. Hempel said. “No child is in harm's way by returning these people to ministry.”

        Several law enforcement officials have criticized the church's stance. Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen declined comment Monday, but he has previously said the church should notify authorities of every abuse complaint.

        Some parishioners at Father Strittmatter's current church, St. Albert the Great in Kettering, questioned why they weren't told sooner about the priest's past.

        St. Albert's pastor, the Rev. James Manning, admitted he had some concerns 11 years ago when he was told “in confidence” about the old allegation against Father Strittmatter.

        “You are torn between confidentiality on one hand and whether people have a right to know,” Father Manning said Sunday.

        Father Strittmatter might remain on suspension until his retirement in a few months, Ms. Hempel said. As long as he is suspended, he cannot say Mass or perform any priestly duties.

        She said the most recent victim to come forward has contacted authorities, but Mr. Allen would not confirm whether he is investigating the allegation.

       



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