Friday, November 21, 2003

Despite plea, few see need for bishop's exit

By Kristina Goetz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk listens as diocesan attorney Mark VanderLaan answers questions at a press conference Thursday.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
| ZOOM |
Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk will stay in his position overseeing more than a half-million Catholics despite admitting Thursday that the Archdiocese of Cincinnati failed to report sexual abuse involving priests and children.

"I do not serve at my own pleasure," the 69-year-old Pilarczyk said. "I serve at the pleasure of the pope. I don't think it would be appropriate for me to walk away even if I could.

"I want to stick with this and see it through," he said.

Tom Roberts, editor of the National Catholic Reporter, said it's unclear what impact, if any, the plea would have on the archbishop's 21-year tenure. Like bishops elsewhere, Pilarczyk has withstood heavy criticism in the past two years over his handling of the abuse crisis. And while the plea may not appease all his critics, it's unlikely to result in his departure.

Under church law, he serves at the discretion of Pope John Paul II and may remain in his position as long as the Holy See chooses.

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"There is nobody he has to be accountable to except the pope," Roberts said.

Pilarczyk is regarded as one of the nation's more reasonable bishops when it comes to the sexual abuse issue, Roberts said. He has supported efforts to toughen rules on abusive priests, and he voted with a majority of other bishops last year to accept a zero-tolerance policy that forces any confirmed abuser out of the priesthood.

"At a national level, he's been one of the voices of reason," Roberts said.

Church historians and theologians say bishops have resigned or retired in years past following accusations that they sexually abused parishioners or failed to report misconduct, but they said Thursday that they know of none removed by a pope.

"I can't think of an instance when that has happened," said Walker Gollar, a theology professor at Xavier University and an American Catholic church historian. "I don't think that's at all going to be the case with Archbishop Pilarczyk."

No specific cases discussed

There was a mixed response by local Catholics, many of whom watched Pilarczyk live on television as he pleaded no contest on behalf of the archdiocese to five misdemeanor counts of failing to report felony crimes that occurred between 1978 and 1982.

The plea does not mention specific cases of abuse or the people who failed to report the abuse.

"In terms of whether he should resign, we know who we have," said Frances Hofmeister, a retired clinical psychologist who has counseled abuse victims since 1962. "We know that we have a person who tried to be honest and fair.

"In this very conservative climate, I question who else we might get. We might get much worse than what we have now."

Dan Horn contributed to this report. E-mail

Archdiocese found guilty of failing to report abuse
Mike Allen's statement on plea agreement
Despite plea, few see need for bishop's exit
Some of faithful content with plea
Fund for victims has a big catch
Ask a question about the Archdiocese's plea

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