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Family Feels Betrayed by Catholic Church

May 20, 2002 | Beacon Journal Christopher Kodger wants Bishop Anthony M. Pilla of the Diocese of Cleveland to resign.

``Bishop Pilla is an evil, wicked man, and I demand his resignation,'' said Kodger, 35, of Alaska. ``If he and other leaders who participated in a cover-up don't resign, then we, good Catholics, must starve them out and take back our church. I believe this is a direct mandate of God.''

Kodger said he was molested by the Rev. F. James Mulica in 1981 at the Chapel of the Divine Word in Kirtland in Lake County, which is part of the Cleveland Diocese.

He returned to Northeast Ohio over the weekend ``to speak for the victims of sexual abuse by priests'' after a television report was aired about his situation.

Diocesan officials confirm they had knowledge of Kodger's claim of abuse, but deny that Pilla knowingly moved Mulica or any priest prone to pedophilia from parish to parish. Both Pilla and Mulica declined to comment.

Allegations of sex abuse within the Roman Catholic Church gained national attention in January during the trial of a former Boston priest who was accused of abusing more than 100 children while being shuffled from parish to parish. He was convicted of indecent assault and battery and sentenced to up to 10 years in prison for fondling a 10-year-old boy.

Since then, the number of allegations against priests throughout the nation has grown, and the public has been incensed that some church leaders apparently kept quiet about the problem and failed to resolve it.

In the midst of the scandal, some U.S. dioceses have paid out millions of dollars to settle victims' lawsuits. In others, allegations of abuse are being dealt with by the criminal justice system. And several dozen priests out of more than 47,000 nationwide have been suspended or forced to resign.

In the Cleveland Diocese, which has about 340 priests serving an eight-county area, including Summit, Medina and Wayne counties, 12 priests have been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation by the Cuyahoga County prosecutor's office.

The Diocese of Youngstown announced last week new allegations of past abuse involving five of its priests. The diocese, which serves six counties, including Stark and Portage, did not release the names of the priests or any information to indicate how many of those priests are in active ministry.

Although all of the recently reported cases are attached to incidents dating back 20 years or more, Kodger's is different because his was reported to the Cleveland Diocese and the Lake County prosecutor when it allegedly occurred in 1981.

Seeking counseling

His parents, Donald and Suzan Kodger of Brunswick, said they agreed to allow their then 14-year-old son to help Mulica with yardwork at the rectory so Mulica could counsel him about the importance of obeying parents.

Suzan Kodger said that while the family was on a camping vacation in Pennsylvania, she told her son to stay away from a culvert that contained a drainpipe. Despite her request, he and his cousin rode their bikes in the culvert, and Christopher Kodger fell, tearing the ligaments in his knee.

``I was so upset that Chris had not listened to me, and I was talking to Father Mulica about it because we considered him a friend. We played bridge with him at our house and at the rectory,'' Suzan Kodger said. ``Father Mulica suggested Chris could help with yardwork at the rectory and they could talk.

``So, when he called late one afternoon and said, `It's a really nice day, we can do some yardwork, swim and talk and I'll bring him home around 9 (p.m.),' I didn't think anything of it.... Now, I bear a lot of guilt.''

Suzan and Donald Kodger said their son went to the rectory about 4:30 p.m. When Donald Kodger picked his son up about 9 p.m., he learned what had happened.

Christopher Kodger, who was still recovering from his knee injury, said he and Mulica went to a convenience store, where Mulica bought beer. After returning to the rectory, the two went swimming in the pool there.

``After we finished swimming, we were sitting in the kitchen and he brings out a case of beer. We started drinking and he gets me pretty drunk. He reaches over and pulls my shorts down'' and began sodomizing the teen with his hand, Christopher Kodger said.

He said when he realized what was happening, he ran.

``He chases me into the back of the house and tackles me down to the ground. I don't know how, but I got away. I ran back into the kitchen, grabbed the keys to his car off the counter and jumped in his car and locked the door.

``He's pounding... pound, pound, pound,'' said Christopher Kodger, motioning with his fist. ``He's saying, `Unlock the door.' He's like a monster. I opened the garage door with the automatic opener and backed out of the garage. And I don't even know how to drive. I made it around the corner and parked in the church parking lot across the street. I figured my dad would be coming soon.''

Meanwhile, Donald Kodger got a phone call from Mulica, saying Chris had taken his car. Kodger asked why. Mulica said he didn't know. Kodger asked if he had called the police. Mulica said no. Kodger said he would be right over and went directly to the rectory.

``As Father Mulica opened the front door for me, Chris was coming in the side door -- apparently, he had seen my car pull into the driveway. I asked what was going on and Father Mulica said, `Don't worry about it. Chris is back. Let's just forget about it,' '' Donald Kodger said. ``I really didn't know what to think. I noticed that the house was in disarray and that Father Mulica's shirt was on inside out and his collar was skewed.

``When we got into the car, I turned to Chris and said `What really happened in there?' ''

He reluctantly told his father what happened.

When they got home, his mother was informed, and the Kodgers began trying to figure out what to do. They knew if they called the police, the church would be involved in a scandal. They called Donald Kodger's parents for advice. Call the bishop, they said.

``I called the bishop and was told he was asleep and couldn't be disturbed. I explained what had happened and said `either I can talk to the bishop or I can call the police,' '' Donald Kodger said.

Kodger contends that Pilla asked ``what do I have to do to keep you quiet until morning?'' The Kodgers asked Pilla to find Mulica.

``We didn't know what he was capable of doing. We didn't know if he would come to our house or what. Chris was hysterical,'' Suzan Kodger said.

The Kodgers said Pilla called them about 2 or 3 a.m., saying that they had found Mulica in a bar and that he had admitted attacking their son. Pilla immediately removed Mulica from his post at the parish and sent him to treatment.

Authorities notified

In subsequent weeks, the Kodgers talked with the Lake County prosecutor, who said that Mulica would likely spend no time in jail and that Chris would have to tell his story in open court. The Kodgers didn't want to risk more damage to their son, knowing Mulica would likely get a slap on the wrist.

Instead of prosecuting, they entered into a settlement agreement with the diocese. The agreement included a monetary settlement of $43,500 and an assurance that Mulica would not be reassigned to a position with access to children.

``Looking back, I wish we would have prosecuted or gone to the police. At least Chris would have seen someone fighting for him,'' Donald Kodger said.

Less than five months after Chris was assaulted, the Kodgers said, Mulica was reassigned to the Chapel of the Divine Word. They said they received a letter, addressed to parishioners, inviting them to a welcome back party for Mulica. After they told Pilla that if Mulica returned, they would meet him at the county line with the sheriff, Mulica did not return, they said.

Robert Tayek, spokesman for the diocese, said he is not aware of a reassignment of Mulica to Divine Word, but pending the prosecutor's investigation, the diocese is not releasing biographical information on any priest. He said at the core of the Kodgers' dispute is whether they objected to Mulica being reassigned to another parish in 1983.

The Kodgers said they were not aware that he was being assigned at a parish at that time, and certainly would not have agreed had they known.

``Why wouldn't we object, if a sodomite was being put back with other prey?'' asked Christopher Kodger. ``There is no way we would agree that it was OK to send him back to a parish. They ruined my life and they're saying we didn't mind if they ruined a few more.''

Tayek said the Rev. Edward Weist, who was secretary for clergy and religious personnel in 1981, made it clear in a letter last week to Pilla that the Kodgers did not object to Mulica's reassignment in 1983. Weist was motivated to write the letter after Fox 8 News in Cleveland broke the Kodgers' story on Thursday. It was reported that Mulica was assigned to St. Jude in Elyria and Holy Redeemer in Cleveland, and that both parishes had schools. The dates of his assignment to those parishes could not be confirmed.

In his letter, Weist stated that he ministered to the Kodger family and treated them ``with compassion and dignity.

``The diocese sent Father Mulica for treatment within a day or two of the alleged transgression. He was out of the diocese for more than two years in which he served as chaplain of an alcohol rehabilitation center in the Detroit area.

``Upon the advice of professional counselors and after conferring with the Kodger family, Father Mulica was returned to ministry in our diocese in 1983. He served at a distant parish ministering mainly to persons with alcohol-related problems.''

Weist also expressed distress ``that others apparently do not believe that we did our best based on the information and advice available.''

The Kodgers say they feel betrayed by the church and its leadership. And they feel responsible for anyone else who may have been molested by Mulica. Christopher Kodger said he is disgusted that church leadership has not moved quickly with a zero tolerance policy that immediately removes any priest involved in sexual misconduct with a child.

``They have decided not to abide in justice because they choose not to root out this most wicked of evils,'' Christopher Kodger said. ``It is time for the good Catholics to stand up for the children. Every parish should have a special collection strictly for the victims because it seems that the church is concerned only with protecting the perverts and sodomites.

``Every diocese headed by a bishop who is guilty of providing further prey to a pervert must immediately resign or parishioners must cease offering one dollar. Every dollar that a person would have normally offered should go into a special collection for the victims.''

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