Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Fire union awaits action on fired chaplain

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The Cincinnati firefighters' union, riled over the dismissal of its volunteer chaplain, agreed to give the chief until today to ease the rift brewing in the department over the priest's removal for being too involved in race-relations issues.

"The chief says he's going to take a day to rectify the situation,'' union President Joe Diebold said Monday. "We said we would let him do that."

Mayor Charlie Luken met with Chief Robert Wright and City Manager Valerie Lemmie about Rev. Mike Paraniuk on Monday. The mayor said he was hopeful but not optimistic that "something can be worked out."

Neither Wright nor Paraniuk could be reached for commentWright was adamant Saturday that Paraniuk would not be reinstated. The priest had become too divisive, the chief said, and had crossed the line into meddling.

The dismissal came two weeks after the Cincinnati African-American Firefighters Association filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging that the predominantly white Cincinnati Fire Fighters Union Local 48 has discriminated against black firefighters for years. The priest said he considered the department's race-related battles one of the moral issues he should try to fix. About half the approximately 250 African-American firefighters left the union after the April 2001 riots. About 25 have returned, according to the union. After the EEOC complaint and four days before he was dismissed, "Father Mike" wrote a message on an unofficial firefighter forum Web site. He prayed for healing.

The topic lit up the Web site. One writer suggested a strike or work stoppage. But other firefighters supported Paraniuk's dismissal.

E-mail jprendergast@enquirer.com

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