Thursday, June 13, 2002

Priest's accuser details his story


Allegations led to suspension of ex-Elder principal

By Janice Morse, jmorse@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Bob Fricke lives so close to Elder High School he can hear cheering football crowds from the back porch of his Price Hill home.

[photo] Bob Fricke, with his wife, Connie, airs allegations of abuse.
(Brandi Stafford photo)
| ZOOM |
        But Mr. Fricke, 40, a married father of three, has found it almost unbearable to attend events at his alma mater because of what he says happened during his senior year there.

        In 1979-80, Mr. Fricke alleges, the Rev. Lawrence Strittmatter, then principal of Elder, invited him off-campus to play racquetball and had inappropriate physical contact with him.

        Father Strittmatter was placed on administrative leave by the archdiocese on Sunday.

        “I'm definitely not here to give Elder a black eye,” Mr. Fricke said Wednesday in an interview at his lawyer's Mason office with his wife, Connie, by his side. He said the main reason he was speaking publicly was “for the other (possible victims) that are out there.”

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        Mr. Fricke, a construction manager, chronicled lifelong struggles with his Catholic faith, difficulty forming close relationships and a healing process that he says is just beginning after 11 years of therapy.

        “Why didn't I stop it? ... Why didn't I just turn around and jack him in the jaw when he did what he did to me?” Mr. Fricke said.

        Then he answered his own questions: “He's the principal, he's the priest, and he's somebody that I admired.”

        Mr. Fricke said Father Strittmatter, Elder principal from 1978 to 1982, would invite him and other youths to play racquetball at a club. At least three times after the racquetball games, Mr. Fricke said, the priest had inappropriate physical contact with him in the men's locker room or shower. Mr. Fricke was 17 or 18 years old at the time, he said.

        Mr. Fricke decided about a month ago to approach archdiocesan officials.

        The Archdiocese of Cincinnati confirmed Wednesday that Mr. Fricke spoke with officials and aired the allegations, leading to Father Strittmatter being placed on administrative leave from his post at St. Albert the Great Church in Kettering, Ohio.

        Mr. Fricke said he didn't specifically ask for that action, despite earlier published reports. Mr. Fricke said the main thing he wanted was for other potential victims who attended Elder while Father Strittmatter was assigned there to be notified that they weren't alone and they could get help.

        Mr. Fricke's lawyer, Konrad Kircher, said that he was “pleasantly surprised” by the archdiocese's reaction overall, but so far the church hasn't agreed to direct Father Strittmatter to list any other possible victims.

        “They still won't go to that step of trying to identify other victims,” Mr. Kircher said.

        The archdiocese's lawyer, Mark Vander Laan, didn't return telephone messages Wednesday.

        Attempts to obtain comment from Father Strittmatter were unsuccessful.

        Father Strittmatter was the third former Elder faculty member to face misconduct allegations this year amid a Catholic sexual abuse scandal unfolding nationwide.

        Two other Greater Cincinnati priests also were accused this year of similar misconduct, and four other Greater Cincinnati priests remain with the archdiocese despite a history of sexual misconduct, officials there say.

        Father Strittmatter had been suspended in 1988, while pastor at Our Lady of Victory in Delhi Township, for an allegation of misconduct with a different Elder student in the 1970s, but was returned to duty after he underwent counseling and received strict orders to stay away from children.

        But Mr. Fricke “never knew that; people at Elder never knew that,” Mr. Kircher said. “Why didn't the archdiocese attempt to identify other victims?”

        Mr. Fricke, a member of St. William Parish in Price Hill, said he and his wife have spent $7,000 on therapy and may ask archdiocese to pay for that. But he said he was not planning to sue the archdiocese.

       Sheila McLaughlin and Richelle Thompson contributed to this report.

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