Friday, October 10, 2003

Grand jury eyes church leaders

Archdiocese's response to abuse investigated

By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Hamilton County prosecutors are preparing to convene a special grand jury to investigate how Archdiocese of Cincinnati officials responded to allegations of sexual abuse involving Catholic priests.

Prosecutors have been investigating clergy abuse in Greater Cincinnati for more than a year and have already presented evidence to a previous grand jury, which indicted two priests on criminal charges in March.

The new grand jury is expected to focus more on church officials who supervised abusive priests than on the priests themselves. The scope of the investigation, including who may be called to testify, is unknown because grand jury proceedings are secret.

Church officials said Thursday that they knew the investigation was continuing but were unaware of a move to convene a new grand jury.

"I have not been given any indication of that," said archdiocese spokesman Dan Andriacco.

A handful of prosecutors around the country have investigated church leadership, but so far no criminal charges have been brought against church officials for failing to act on complaints about abusive priests.

Court records show that Prosecutor Mike Allen received permission last month from Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Steven Martin to convene a special grand jury that would hear testimony and review evidence for up to four months, beginning Nov. 10.

The grand jury's job is to determine whether there is enough evidence to support criminal charges against one or more suspects.

Allen said Thursday that his office continues to investigate abusive priests as well as higher-ranking church officials. But he would not say whether the special grand jury was related to the clergy abuse probe.

"There has been an ongoing investigation," Allen said. "We're looking at all the issues."

Requests to convene special grand juries are rare, and the last time prosecutors made such a request was to investigate clergy abuse.

Some local attorneys say prosecutors have stepped up the pace of the clergy abuse investigation in the past two months and have questioned alleged victims about how the Archdiocese of Cincinnati handled complaints about priests.

"The process has heated up," said Mason attorney Konrad Kircher, who represents 52 men who claim to have been abused by priests when they were children. "My impression is (prosecutors) have moved past the conduct of individual priests and are now focusing on the archdiocese's conduct."

Kircher said he has spoken to prosecutors about the claims in his lawsuits and has provided the names of his clients. He said prosecutors have so far interviewed about a dozen of his clients.

"My sense is they're asking what happened and when, and they're also asking who may have known about it," Kircher said.

Janet Abaray, another attorney who recently sued the archdiocese, said one of her clients also has spoken to prosecutors. But she did not know details of the conversation.

The special grand jury is the latest development in an investigation that began early last year, when archdiocese officials first acknowledged that they continued to employ five priests despite past allegations of abuse.

All five of those priests have since been suspended. But prosecutors and church officials have repeatedly clashed over the church's handling of abuse claims and its refusal to turn over some church documents.

Allen accused church officials last year of playing a game of "hide-the-evidence," while church lawyers complained that they had turned over all documents relevant to the investigation.

At one point last year, prosecutors issued a grand jury subpoena for Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk but, in the end, did not call him to testify.

It's unclear whether Pilarczyk or other church leaders will be called to appear before the new grand jury in November.


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