Sunday, May 23, 2004

2 priests deny abuse allegations

By Dan Klepal and Matt Leingang
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Two priests in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington - including the second-in-command behind Bishop Roger Foys - are on administrative leave while they are investigated over allegations of sexually abusing minors.

The Rev. Gerald Reinersman, vicar general for the diocese who served on the diocese's Committee for Addressing Sexual Misconduct, is accused of abusing a Lexington teenager in 1979. At that time, he was a pastor at Mary Queen of the Holy Rosary Church. As vicar general, Reinersman stands in for the bishop.

The Rev. Mark Steidle, a pastor at Blessed Sacrament Church in Fort Mitchell, is accused of inappropriately touching a minor in 1994 at Marydale Retreat Center.

Both men have denied the allegations.

The investigations were announced Friday by Foys, in a letter to the diocesan newspaper. The bishop said the leaves of absence are in accord with diocesan policy, which mirrors a policy adopted by the U.S. bishops at a national conference in 2002. That says accused priests should be placed on leave to protect members of the parish.

The allegations are the first to be leveled against either priest, Foys said.

Reinersman, who rose through the ranks in the Covington Diocese, was appointed to the Chancery by Bishop Robert W. Muench. Foys tapped him for his current position in 2002.

Reinersman had pending an appointment to become pastor at a Covington parish, starting July 1. Foys did not name the parish.

The person accusing Reinersman says his memory of the abuse was repressed until "several" years ago. The Archdiocese of Chicago is handling the Reinersman investigation to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest.

Reinersman denied the charges in a letter dated May 12: "I absolutely and categorically deny that I have engaged in sexual misconduct with the individual accusing me or any other person," the letter says.

"From the first day of my priesthood, twenty-five years ago, I have remained faithful to my promise of celibate chastity. ... My conscience is clear as I stand before God and any person."

Steidle was ordained in 1993 and has held his position in Fort Mitchell since 2003. He, too, has denied the charges, but did not provide the diocese with a written statement.

Robert Steinberg, a Cincinnati attorney who, along with Stan Chesley, has filed a class-action suit on behalf of alleged molestation victims in the Covington Diocese since the 1950s, said one of his clients is Steidle's accuser.

He declined to provide any information about his client, who is now an adult.

"This case illustrates why we are asking for a screening of all priests, not just the ones who are newly hired," Steinberg said.

His office has been contacted by 100 alleged victims of priest sexual abuse, Steinberg said.

The lawsuit contends the Diocese mishandled claims against its clergymen.

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