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7 Indicted In Diocesan Sex Cases

Dec 5, 2002 | Cleveland Plain Dealer

A grand jury indicted one priest and six employees at a home for troubled youths yesterday, ending a seven-month investigation of child sexual abuse inside the Cleveland Catholic Diocese.

Cuyahoga County Prosecutor William Mason's frustration was clear at a news conference as he criticized Ohio's laws for providing an escape hatch for most of the 145 priests against whom sex-abuse allegations were leveled.

"Without a doubt, but for the statute of limitations, many more priests would have been indicted," Mason said.

He said he intends to work with the Ohio legislature next year to loosen the law.

Nearly half of the 1,000-plus claims of abuse were trumped by statute of limitations violations - typically cases in which reputed victims failed to report the incidents within six years of reaching the age of 18.

Prosecutors deemed 92 of the sex-abuse cases timely and strong enough to present to the grand jury. But only 11 resulted in indictments.

Among the clergy cleared of crimes by the grand jury were Bishop Anthony Pilla and Auxiliary Bishop A. James Quinn. Prosecutors presented cases of obstruction of justice and racketeering by the bishops, but the grand jury rejected indictments.

The Rev. Daniel McBride, 76, was indicted on charges of racketeering, compelling prostitution and promoting prostitution.

The retired priest, a senior associate pastor at St. Barnabas in Northfield Center Township, is accused of meeting a boy at Marshall McCarron's Tavern in Cleveland and taking him to Chautauqua, N.Y., to have sex.

Indictments on rape and other sex-related charges were handed up against four current and former employees at Parmadale.

Parmadale is a residential treatment center run by Catholic Charities. Indicted are: Christopher Zembower, 30, of Parma; Johnny Miller, 33, of Cleveland; Nathan Petrovich, age unavailable, of Parma; and John Johnston, 32, of Garfield Heights.

Two other Parmadale employees were also indicted: Orin E. Smith III, 32, of Maple Heights, on two charges of gross sexual imposition; and former employee Michael Brown, 47, of Cleveland was charged with kidnapping and multiple sex-related crimes.

Brown, already under indictment on sex-crime charges at Parmadale and in Summit County, is a fugitive; he disappeared last month from his home, where he was under house arrest.

Prosecutors say the men abused youths living at Parmadale.

Pilla and Quinn testified before the grand jury for five hours Tuesday. Although their testimony was secret, Assistant County Prosecutor Richard Bell said his questions were aimed at determining whether either of the bishops committed crimes in their handling of the diocese's widespread clergy sex-abuse crisis.

Bell said he specifically asked Quinn about a 1990 speech in Columbus to a group of church lawyers. Quinn, a lawyer and leader of the Cleveland diocese's legal defense team, recommended to the group that sex-abuse documents be kept secret from investigators by sending them to the Vatican's ambassador in Washington, D.C. A transcript of the speech was read to the grand jury.

The nine-member grand jury took a vote but did not have the seven votes required to indict, Bell said.

Grand jury foreman Michael Stradiot of Garfield Heights declined to discuss the deliberations yesterday.

"I asked the bishops everything," Bell said. "They answered all of my questions to my satisfaction. Apparently they were answered to [the grand jury's] satisfaction."

People who alleged abuse and their lawyers have accused the bishops of obstructing justice and running a corrupt organization. The accusers say the diocese conspired to cover up abuse; failed to report sex crimes to authorities; and allowed accused priests to continue to have contact with children in "active ministry."

Mason said that whatever mistakes the bishops might have made in their handling of the clergy sex-abuse crisis, they did not reach the level of racketeering or other criminal behavior.

"I was looking for that kind of information," Mason said. "I didn't find it. The RICO statute didn't apply in their cases."

Pilla did not mention his grand jury testimony during a news conference later in the day, at which he read a brief statement and declined to answer questions from reporters.

"It is now in the hands of the courts," Pilla said, "and we leave all other judgments to God."

Although Pilla and Quinn avoided criminal charges of running an illegal business operation, a lawsuit brought in 2001 by an alleged sex-abuse victim accusing the bishops and the diocese of civil racketeering remains alive in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court.

"People should be appalled that the prosecutor found all of these cases," said Jay Milano, a Rocky River lawyer representing a Fairview Park man in the RICO/sex-abuse lawsuit.

"The depth of the clergy sex-abuse problem here is almost beyond comprehension," Milano said. "Cleveland is worse than Boston."

Since April, Pilla has suspended 15 priests including McBride against whom child sex-abuse charges were made. Thirteen former and retired priests also have been named by the diocese.

Those suspended priests wishing to return to active ministry must first have their cases reviewed by a panel of lay people to determine if the allegations against them are credible, Pilla said.

One of those who was accused, the Rev. Donald Rooney, killed himself rather than fight the allegations.

A woman who said she was Rooney's victim said yesterday's announcements left her disillusioned.

"I feel devastated for all of the other victims," said Regina Scolaro of San Francisco and formerly of Cleveland. "I just feel like the diocese will never be held accountable for what its priests have done to us."

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