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Suspended Priests' Fate Still Unclear

Jun 30, 2002 | Beacon Journal

It's unclear what will happen to the 12 Roman Catholic priests in the Diocese of Cleveland who are on administrative leave because of allegations that they sexually abused children.

And that's probably not going to change very soon.

Diocese officials won't decide what to do about the priests until the Vatican has spoken on the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted earlier this month in Dallas; until the Cleveland Diocese's sex-abuse policy-review commission created by Bishop Anthony M. Pilla in the spring has made its recommendations; and until the Cuyahoga County prosecutor's office has finished its investigation into allegations of abuse.

``People want immediate action, but it's complicated because we're dealing with civil and church law, and it's going to take some time,'' said Cleveland diocese spokesman Robert Tayek. ``I think most of the bishops around the country are waiting to see if the national norms are approved by the Vatican. Until the Vatican approves or rejects the charter, bishops are going to be reluctant to act.''

Since the bishops returned more than a week ago from their national conference in Dallas -- where they approved a national policy to expel a priest or deacon who sexually abuses a minor -- Pilla has been meeting individually with the 12 priests on administrative leave, trying to answer any questions about the new policy.

In the Youngstown Diocese, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin has taken the first step in establishing a review board made up mostly of laypeople to deal with allegations of abuse by priests.

The diocese is redrafting its child protection policy to incorporate the bishops' decisions, said diocese spokeswoman Nancy Yuhasz. ``We want to do things in a timely manner, but we also want to be careful,'' she said.

Yuhasz said Tobin has asked his advisory board to submit names for a review board, but he has not decided what that the board will look like, except that most members will be laypeople.

Neither the Cleveland Diocese, which includes Summit, Medina and Wayne counties, and the Youngstown Diocese, which includes Stark and Portage counties, has a timetable for completing its policy review.

However, William Denihan, who leads the review commission in Cleveland, said he expects Pilla to have something ready to present to the diocese's parishes within six weeks.

Tayek said seven of the 12 priests on administrative leave have met with Pilla.

It appears likely that none of the 12 will return to ministry, in accordance with the approved national charter. A priest permanently removed from the ministry would be offered professional help, Tayek said.

Once a priest has been removed from ministry, however, only the Vatican has the power to defrock, or laicize, him. The charter includes provisions for the priest or his bishop to request laicization.

If laicization is not sought, the priest would be required to lead a life of prayer and penance in a remote setting such as a monastery. The priest would be prohibited from celebrating Mass publicly, wearing clerical garb or presenting himself publicly as a priest.

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