Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Archdiocese suspends priest

Accused of improper touching 20 years ago

By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A Fayetteville priest was suspended Tuesday after the Archdiocese of Cincinnati received a complaint that he inappropriately touched a teenage boy 20 years ago.

The Rev. Ronald Cooper, pastor at St. Angela Merici parish, is accused of having improper contact with the boy several times while he was an associate pastor at St. Aloysius Gonzaga parish in Bridgetown between 1983 and 1984.

Church officials say they recently learned of the allegation and reported it last month to Hamilton County prosecutors.

Prosecutors, however, say the claim is so old that it bars criminal charges even if the allegation should be verified.

Archdiocese spokesman Dan Andriacco said Cooper told church officials he had contact with the boy but denied any sexual intent. Cooper could not be reached Tuesday.

Cooper is the 11th archdiocese priest in the past two years to be placed on administrative leave, which prevents him from administering the sacraments or presenting himself as a priest. Four other priests were suspended prior to 2002.

All of the allegations date back years and, in several cases, decades.

Under new zero-tolerance rules adopted in 2002, Catholic priests must be suspended if church officials receive a credible claim of abuse against them.

The allegation now will be referred to the archdiocese's Child Protection Review Board, which will decide whether to recommend a permanent suspension and a referral of the case to the Vatican. The Vatican then would determine whether Cooper should be removed from the priesthood.

"You want to be as protective of children as you possibly can without violating the priest's right to a presumption of innocence," Andriacco said.

Cooper was assigned to St. Angela Merici in July. A church secretary, Judy Iles, said archdiocese Chancellor Joseph Binzer notified parishioners of Cooper's removal Tuesday morning.

"We didn't know it was coming," Iles said. "Our prayers are with him."

Cooper, who was ordained in 1983, previously served at St. Ann in Groesbeck, St. Albert the Great in Dayton, St. Thomas More in Withamsville, St. Benignus in Greenfield and St. Michael in New Vienna.

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