Thursday, September 18, 2003

Fifth accused priest identified


He resigns before hearing on alleged abuse

By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A Catholic priest in Troy, Ohio, resigned from his church Wednesday because of allegations he abused teenage girls more than 20 years ago at Mount Notre Dame High School in Reading.

The Rev. Thomas Brunner's resignation from St. Patrick Church comes just weeks before a new Catholic review board is scheduled to hear evidence that he and four other Greater Cincinnati priests abused children.

The review board is expected to recommend that Brunner and the others be placed on administrative leave, a first step toward forcing them from the priesthood.

"In all of the cases, there are substantiated allegations of abuse," said Dan Andriacco, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. "Church law is that they must be permanently removed from ministry."

Brunner's resignation and the upcoming review board hearings are the product of a zero-tolerance policy adopted last year at the U.S. bishops' conference in Dallas.

The policy, a response to abuse scandals nationwide, requires church leaders to permanently remove any priest who has abused a child.

The new rules are a change from an archdiocese policy that for years allowed Brunner and the other four priests to continue working in Greater Cincinnati churches.

Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk first mentioned the five accused priests last year, but refused to identify them or to immediately remove them.

Their names became known, though, as more alleged victims came forward, filed lawsuits or complained publicly about church policy.

Brunner is the last of the five to be publicly identified. And like the others, he has been barred from active ministry pending the outcome of his review board hearing.

Critics of church policy say the priests should have been removed a year ago, after the zero-tolerance policy was adopted.

"It's terribly disappointing that it's taken so long," said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests (SNAP).

Andriacco said allegations against Brunner surfaced in 1985, when two students at Mount Notre Dame accused the priest of abuse. Brunner left the school, received counseling and became pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary in Anderson Township.

In 1989, another woman told church officials that Brunner had abused her in the 1970s, Andriacco said. A psychological evaluation determined that the priest did not pose a threat and could continue as pastor at Immaculate Heart, he said.

None of the allegations were reported to authorities because the victims had concerns about privacy, he said.

Andriacco said additional restrictions were placed on Brunner in 1993 when the archdiocese adopted its Decree on Child Protection, which requires ongoing therapy and an agreement never to be alone with children.

Immaculate Heart and St Patrick's, which Brunner joined in 1995, both have grade schools. But Andriacco said the archdiocese received no complaints about Brunner's conduct and saw no evidence that he spent time alone with children.

Parishioners at St. Patrick's said Brunner was active in the community and the parish.

"Everybody is shocked," said Kris Pax, a St. Patrick's parishioner for nine years. "Everybody loved him. He did a lot of good things here."

Brunner could not be reached Wednesday. Andriacco said the priest moved out of the church rectory Tuesday and had left town for a few weeks.

Andriacco said Brunner and the other four priests would get hearings before the review board sometime this fall.

The other priests are:

• The Rev. David Kelley, accused of molesting boys at St. Therese the Little Flower in Mount Airy in the 1970s and 1980s.

• The Rev. Lawrence Strittmatter, a former Elder High School principal accused of abusing as many as 24 boys from the 1960s to the 1980s.

• Monsignor Daniel Pater, who recently quit his diplomatic post at the Vatican after he was questioned about allegations that he abused a teenage girl years ago in Kettering.

• The Rev. Francis Massarella, an 88-year-old priest who is accused of molesting girls more than 50 years ago.

Andriacco said the review board is expected to recommend that all of the priests be placed on administrative leave. Once that happens, they will continue to be paid by the archdiocese but will be barred from ministry.

The next step, Andriacco said, is for church officials to start the process to defrock the priests, which would return them to lay status.

"We believe the majority will (voluntarily) do that," Andriacco said. "We also believe some will resist."

If they do resist, the priests will be subject to a trial under church law to determine whether they should be defrocked.

E-mail dhorn@enquirer.com




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