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Detroit Archdiocese Apologizes To Molestation Victims

Mar 23, 2002 | AP

With a priest facing new allegations of sexual abuse by members of a prominent family of athletes, the Archdiocese of Detroit apologized Friday to victims molested by Roman Catholic clergy.

The Rev. Gerald Shirilla, meanwhile, remained suspended from serving as a priest after being removed Wednesday as pastor of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Alpena.

"Words fall woefully short when commenting on stories about the abuse of minor children by clergy," Ned McGrath, a spokesman for the Detroit archdiocese, said in a prepared statement. "What we can reiterate -- on behalf of Cardinal (Adam) Maida and the Archdiocese of Detroit -- is a sincere apology for these grievous acts.

"The victims and families who have suffered this abuse have our continued commitment to be vigilant in addressing these tragic situations."

The statement also said Maida's 1993 ban on Shirilla's service as a priest remained in effect.

A telephone message left with Shirilla's attorney, Michael Smith, was not immediately returned Friday.

McGrath said earlier this week that Shirilla, 63, had taken the assignment at St. Mary's -- which is within the Diocese of Gaylord -- without permission from Maida, who has authority over him.

Bishop Patrick Cooney of the Gaylord diocese appointed Shirilla to the Alpena parish in August. Cooney's decision was based on psychological evaluations, among other factors, the diocese said in a statement.

The archdiocese's punishment of Shirilla in 1993 stemmed from a civil lawsuit filed by a former student that year. Declan DeMeyer said Shirilla sexually abused him in the 1970s while DeMeyer was attending Sacred Heart Seminary.

Shirilla admitted in a deposition that he massaged DeMeyer's chest and stomach while in the youth's bedroom in 1978. The priest also admitted massaging other boys' chests while he or they were in their underwear, but denied any improper sexual contact.

DeMeyer's lawsuit against Shirilla and the archdiocese was dismissed in 1999 because the filing deadline had expired. Michigan law required victims abused as minors to file for monetary civil damages before their 19th birthday. Shirilla never was charged criminally.

DeMeyer's 1993 lawsuit prompted Tom Paciorek, a star athlete at St. Ladislaus School in Hamtramck and former major league baseball player, to file a complaint with the archdiocese that same year.

Paciorek told the Detroit Free Press in a report published Friday that Shirilla molested him and three of his four brothers while working as a teacher at St. Ladislaus in the 1960s.

Shirilla was placed in a treatment program after the archdiocese placed him on administrative leave in 1993. It is not clear where he spent the period between his treatment and his assignment to the Alpena parish.

Two former priests said they hoped the withdrawal of Shirilla's assignment as a parish priest meant the church was more willing to confront wrongdoing by clergy.

"There are pedophiles in every walk of life. We don't have to single out priests," said Dave Feighan, 68, of Macomb County's Washington Township, a priest in Detroit from 1962-1970. "The question is, there seems to be a little problem in the church with covering up."

Said George Van Antwerp, 74, of Royal Oak, a priest in Detroit and other southeast Michigan communities from 1953-70: "On one hand I wonder if other organizations have similar problems, and they aren't broadcast.

"On the other hand, I wish that the church had handled things well enough that the priest would get a fair hearing and yet the bad apples would be taken out of operation."

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