Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Church scandal may deepen


Lawyer: Papers show earlier coverup of abuse

By Janice Morse
and Dan Horn
Enquirer staff writers

XENIA, Ohio - A Mason lawyer told a judge Monday that he has seen documents showing that the Archdiocese of Cincinnati concealed priest sexual-abuse allegations from authorities, victims and its own priests.

Attorney Konrad Kircher also said that more of those documents will be disclosed because of a Greene County magistrate's ruling Monday, ordering the archdiocese to release to Kircher files of accused priests except where specifically exempt by law.

Kircher was arguing a civil case in Greene County involving allegations of sexual abuse against a priest.

"Victims and their families are going to finally know the truth," he said, "and they are finally getting some control over shedding light on what the archdiocese has known about these cases."

As quoted by Kircher, those documents show that a priest personnel director for the archdiocese wrote a memo to Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk in 1986 saying the church would risk being held responsible if a priest advised an abuse victim to go to a counselor outside the church.

"The problem: If the young man were to talk to a professional counselor, that person may report the accused priest to civil authorities," says the memo, according to Kircher's written summary.

Archdiocese spokesman Dan Andriacco said that memo might have been directed to other archdiocesan officials, not to Pilarczyk.

Andriacco complained that Kircher's excerpts do not fairly describe some of the exchanges: "It's a highly selective use of documents."

Andriacco said documents Kircher referred to had been disclosed to prosecutors or judges while the archdiocese faced a criminal investigation.

Kircher said in court that he might have been the only person outside the archdiocese to ever see the records.

He said the records support his claim in a Greene County civil case that the archdiocese engaged in "a pattern of corrupt activity" to hide information from victims so they couldn't blame the archdiocese in court for abuses priests committed.

The records Kircher viewed involve two priests, Lawrence Stritmatter and David Kelley. Last year, the archdiocese pleaded no contest to five charges of failing to report abuse involving those two priests. Neither priest was criminally prosecuted because the allegations were too old, authorities said.

The records did not involve Keith Albrecht, a priest who was removed from the ministry in 1993, who is accused of abusing Kircher's client in the Greene County civil case. But Kircher argued the documents show how the cases are intertwined.

"(These documents show) the conspiracy perpetrated at the highest levels, by even the archbishop ... to avoid prosecutors' attention and to avoid legal responsibility and to keep victims in the dark," Kircher said in court. "They even used their own priests as pawns by misleading their own priests about the number of victims ... so that priests could then go and misrepresent information to victims."

Kircher said in court that he saw the records Wednesday and Thursday in the law office of Matt Garretson, a lawyer who oversees a $3 million abuse-victims' compensation fund that the Cincinnati Archdiocese set up last year. Garretson confirmed that Kircher was in his law office last week reviewing documents from Kelley's file. Garretson would not discuss their contents.

Andriacco criticized Kircher for using the documents from the victim's compensation fund for a separate civil case. "It's completely contrary to the agreement under which these documents were made available," Andriacco said.

Kircher said in court that he was not allowed to make photocopies of the documents, but he took notes, including some verbatim quotes. Kircher prepared a written summary, which he discussed in court.

Kircher's summary outlines documents showing that the archdiocese knew about allegations against Kelley as early as 1985. Last year, the archdiocese told the Enquirer that no specific allegations against Kelley had surfaced until 1994. Andriacco said Monday that the archdiocese still stands behind that statement.

Kircher's notes say that, on June 5, 1986, the Rev. Paul Rehling, the priest personnel director, wrote a memo telling Pilarczyk about allegations that Kelley had sexually abused a young man. Rehling said the Rev. Tom Bolte of St. Martin of Tours had raised those concerns.

Rehling advised Pilarczyk to tell Bolte to refer the abused person to "a priest he can trust," not to a counselor, Kircher's summary says.

"If there were ever trouble in the future, and it turns out there are a series of these incidents, the Church would be held responsible in court," Rehling wrote, according to Kircher's summary.

Kircher said Rehling added: "(Kelley) can be reassured that we are not interested in turning up stuff to prove him guilty about. ... I think the stuff that keeps surfacing only says that Dave (Kelley) is another time bomb waiting to go off."

Months later, Kircher's summary says, on Dec. 18, 1986, Pilarczyk wrote a memo to a treatment center concerning Kelley and explained that, in 1983, Elder High School students reported that Kelley had "touched their genitals."

Andriacco said that Pilarczyk made sure that Kelley received treatment because of complaints about contact with children.

Bolte confirmed Monday that he contacted the archdiocese's personnel office about the allegation of abuse involving Kelley.

E-mail jmorse@enquirer.com and dhorn@enquirer.com




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