Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Clergy abuse inquiry on hold


Archdiocese, prosecutor talk about settling

By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A grand jury investigation into clergy sexual abuse was put on hold Monday as Hamilton County prosecutors and lawyers for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati discussed a possible settlement.

The postponement came just hours before officials from the archdiocese were expected to testify to the grand jury about their handling of sexual abuse allegations involving priests.
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Prosecutors have been investigating clergy abuse for 18 months and completed their first grand jury investigation earlier this year.

That grand jury examined the behavior of individual priests, but the new grand jury was expected to focus on how archdiocese officials responded - or failed to respond - to abuse allegations that date back years or even decades.

Attorneys on both sides would say only that they were "in discussions" throughout the day Monday.

"I can confirm they are having discussions," said archdiocese spokeswoman Tricia Hempel. "They are still trying to come to some terms."

Although settlement talks are not complete, prosecutors and the archdiocese hammered out at least one deal late Monday.

As part of the agreement, the archdiocese will give prosecutors documents that it had previously argued were confidential communications between church officials and their attorneys.

Terms of that deal were revealed Monday afternoon when prosecutors and the archdiocese dismissed their claims against each other in the Ohio 1st District Court of Appeals. The court heard arguments last week about why church officials wanted to keep the records secret, and why prosecutors wanted to see them.

It's unclear, however, whether the deal to share some church records is part of a larger settlement that would resolve all pending issues, including the grand jury investigation.

Prosecutor Mike Allen could not be reached Monday and archdiocese attorney Mark VanderLaan declined comment.

A written statement from Allen indicated that grand jury proceedings would remain on hold until discussions with the archdiocese are complete.

The 14 grand jurors were sworn in last week and were set to begin hearing testimony Monday. Subpoenas have been sent to church lawyers, and at least some church officials were expected to testify.

Because grand jury proceedings are secret, it's not known who is on the list of witnesses or whether Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk would have been among those called to testify.

Pilarczyk was ordered to appear before the first grand jury last year, but prosecutors decided not to call him.

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

The investigation in Hamilton County began last year after Pilarczyk acknowledged that the archdiocese continued to employ five priests despite past allegations of abuse.

All five 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 hand over some 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.

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E-mail dhorn@enquirer.com




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