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Priests In Area Probe Face Long Road Ahead

Legal Wheels In Motion Inside, Outside of Church

Dec 6, 2002 Resolution for the 15 priests on administrative leave in the Diocese of Cleveland probably won't happen swiftly.

For the Rev. Daniel P. McBride, the only one of the 15 who currently faces criminal charges in Cuyahoga County, the road to resolution will take a legal path before officials in the Roman Catholic Church determine his permanent status with the church.

The other 14 including the Rev. Joseph Lieberth of Holy Family in Stow, the Rev. John J. Mueller of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Wooster and the Rev. Raymond Bartnikowski of St. Victor in Richfield who are still awaiting the conclusion of criminal investigations in other jurisdictions of the eight-county diocese, can seek reinstatement.

All requests for reinstatement will be considered by a diocesan lay review committee, which will make a recommendation to Cleveland Diocese Bishop Anthony M. Pilla.

``The Cuyahoga County prosecutor has come to a significant milestone in concluding his investigation, but it's not over as far as the church is concerned,'' said Bishop Martin Amos, auxiliary bishop of the diocese's southern region, which includes Summit, Medina, Wayne and Ashland counties. ``There is a whole ecclesiastical process that each of these priests must go through.''

On Wednesday, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor William Mason announced indictments against McBride and six former diocesan employees of Parmadale, a residential treatment facility for troubled youth, on allegations of sex abuse against minors. Also indicted were four men associated with a Cleveland bar, described as a brothel for boys who prostituted themselves.

Mason's office issued arrest warrants Wednesday, but none of the suspects was in custody Thursday.

Mason has also forwarded information about other sex abuse allegations to county prosecutors in six states and 17 Ohio counties, including Summit and Wayne. Those prosecutors are reviewing the information for possible indictments.

McBride, who was suspended in July as senior associate at St. Barnabas in Northfield Center Township, is the first priest indicted in Ohio since the sex abuse scandal hit the church earlier this year. Mason said more of the 145 priests who were investigated would have been indicted, but nearly half of the instances of abuse extended beyond the statute of limitations.

Some local priests said they are relieved that Mason's investigation is over but expressed sadness, embarrassment and humiliation that one of their fellow clergy faces criminal charges. All were adamant that any priest guilty of abusing a minor should be permanently removed from ministry.

``Just because the statute of limitations ran out does not mean these priests will go back to a parish that will not happen,'' said the Rev. Gordon Yahner, pastor of St. Hilary in Fairlawn.

But even canon, or church, law includes a 10-year statute of limitations, which begins to run after a victim reaches 18 years of age, according to the Rev. Ralph Wiatrowski, a canon lawyer and chancellor for the Cleveland Diocese.

Amos said the church statute will not be used as a loophole to return any priest with a substantiated allegation to the ministry. The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, approved by the U.S. Conference of Bishops, is in force and is expected to become church law upon the Vatican's approval as early as this month, he said.

``There is a provision in canon law for bishops to ask that the statute be waived and the Vatican has said if a bishop applies, it will lift the statute,'' Amos said. ``It is clear that a priest with even a single act of abuse, that he has admitted to or that has been substantiated, is out. No matter how long ago it happened. Even if you're retired, you will be removed from ministry.''

According to the charter, if a bishop accepts a lay review committee's recommendation of total and permanent removal of a priest, the case will be heard by a church tribunal, whose members have not been determined. The tribunal will ultimately decide on the removal, Amos said.

A priest can only be laicized, or defrocked, by the Vatican.

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