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Former Mariner Alleges Abuse; Accused Priest Is Placed On Leave

Mar 23, 2002 | AP

Former Major League Baseball player Tom Paciorek, a member of the Seattle Mariners for four seasons, says he and three of his brothers were molested as children by a priest who was removed this week from a Michigan church.

Paciorek, 55, in his first public comments about the alleged abuse, told a Detroit newspaper that he lodged a complaint about the Rev. Gerald Shirilla with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit in 1993 after another former student filed a lawsuit about the priest.

Shirilla admitted in a deposition stemming from the lawsuit that he massaged boys' chests and stomachs while he or they were in their underwear, but denied sexual contact.

The archdiocese placed Shirilla on administrative leave and prohibited him from public ministry, but he never was charged and the lawsuit was dismissed in 1999 because the statute of limitations had expired. Michigan law required victims abused as minors to file for monetary civil damages before they turned 19.

Paciorek and his four brothers grew up on Detroit's east side and attended Hamtramck St. Ladislaus, a Catholic high school where Shirilla, now 63, was a teacher before entering the priesthood.

Shirilla was removed Wednesday from St. Mary Catholic Church in Alpena, in northern Michigan, where he had accepted an assignment in August. He has not responded to repeated requests for comment.

His attorney, Michael Smith, told the Detroit Free Press that the priest has done nothing that would make him unfit for ministry.

The archdiocese yesterday issued an apology to all victims molested by Roman Catholic clergy.

"Words fall woefully short when commenting on stories about the abuse of minor children by clergy," archdiocese spokesman Ned McGrath 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."

Paciorek said he was surprised when he heard Shirilla had been hired in Alpena.

"I was molested by him for a period of four years," Paciorek told the Free Press this week in Kissimmee, Fla., where he is covering the Atlanta Braves' training camp for FoxSports Net. "I would refer to them as attacks. I would say there was at least 100 of them."

The worst, he told the newspaper, came during the summer before Paciorek, then 16, started his senior year in high school. Shirilla, a family friend, requested and received permission from Paciorek's parents to have Tom spend the weekend at his family's home, Paciorek said.

"For 72 hours, I felt like I was under constant attack," Paciorek told the Free Press. "It was relentless. I mean, I felt like I was a prisoner at his house. I remember saying in a moment of silence, when I maybe slept just a couple of hours, 'God, is this ever going to end? When is it ever going to end?' "

Shirilla had the trust of Paciorek's parents and would pick the boy up and take him to Sacred Heart Seminary, Paciorek said.

"There were times, so many times, I just wanted to say: 'Listen, just leave me alone. Get away from me.' I rehearsed it and rehearsed it," he was quoted as saying.

Paciorek said the abuse continued until he graduated and left for the University of Houston.

Paciorek went on to have a long, successful baseball career, from 1970 to 1987, but said he still suffered emotionally. He was a member of the Mariners from 1978 through 1981 and also played for Los Angeles, Atlanta, the Chicago White Sox, New York Mets and Texas.

Three of Paciorek's brothers confirmed to the Free Press that they, too, were molested by Shirilla during the 1960s.

John, the oldest, was a senior and a major-league prospect in 1961. Shirilla was in his early 20s and had returned to his alma mater as a teacher. John told the Free Press that Shirilla showed an interest in his academic promise.

"I was the first contact with him," John, now an elementary physical-education teacher in the Los Angeles area, told the Free Press. "He was really an outstanding professional teacher. He was the first person to motivate me academically."

But John told of a day on the Shirilla family's back porch when a back rub turned into a sexual advance. John said he forced Shirilla to stop.

Younger brother Tom was next, in the summer of '62 before he started his junior year, he told the Free Press. Tom told the newspaper that Shirilla volunteered his time and car to help Tom earn his driver's license.

At one point, as Tom steered a car, Shirilla "put his hand on my leg," Paciorek was quoted as saying. "Then he fondled my genitals. ... He says, 'That's OK, John liked it.' "

The molestations continued, Tom told the Free Press, even after Shirilla left the high school to enter Sacred Heart Seminary.

The former All-Star said he didn't tell anyone.

"When you're a kid, and you're not able to articulate, who's going to believe you?" he asked. "The church back then was so powerful, there's nothing that a kid could do."

Paciorek said he suffered emotionally, without offering details. He sought counseling 15 years ago, separated from his wife 11 years ago and still sees a therapist weekly. He lives alone in Atlanta.

Paciorek and his brothers had kept the abuse secret, even from each other, until the early 1980s, when Michael Paciorek, the fourth of five boys in the family, started making comments about Shirilla.

"I told them what he used to do to me. And all of a sudden, it went from being funny to being not so funny," said Michael, now 47. "I first became a victim of his when I was 8, 9 or 10 years old."

Bobby Paciorek, now 51, the third of the five brothers, related similar memories of abuse. He said the abuse began when he was in seventh or eighth grade. Only the youngest brother, Jim, now 41, said he was not molested by Shirilla.

"I still feel bad that I didn't tell them, that I didn't warn them," Tom said of his younger brothers. "I've apologized to them, because you feel for your brothers like your own children. How awful it would be for them to go through something like that."

Allegations of child sexual abuse by priests gained national attention in January when documents revealed that Boston church officials had ignored abuse allegations against a former priest convicted of molesting a 10-year-old boy.

Since then, dozens of priests out of more than 47,000 nationwide have been suspended or forced to resign.

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