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Two Indicted In Priest Abuse Probe

Mar 22, 2003 | Plain Dealer

A yearlong grand jury investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct in Cincinnati's Roman Catholic archdiocese led to criminal charges yesterday against one priest who has been defrocked and another who has been suspended.

Both were long ago stripped of ministerial duties after admitting they molested boys.

"I deeply regret that anyone representing the archdiocese, especially any priest, has committed this repugnant crime. I pray that these indictments will lead to justice and a measure of healing for the victims," Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk said.

Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen said arrest warrants were issued for both men. He also said he has no evidence that high-ranking church officials tried to cover up either case.

A special Hamilton County Grand Jury also heard evidence about 75 other abuse incidents that go back 40 years. He said none of the cases can be prosecuted because the statute of limitations expired or the priest is deceased. He said those incidents involved 15 or 20 priests.

The grand jury is still seeking access to a four-inch stack of church records that an appeals court is reviewing. Church officials have balked at giving the documents to the grand jury on grounds that they involve attorney-client records that are not pertinent to the sex-abuse investigation.

Church leaders could be charged with obstruction of justice if the records contain details about sexual abuse cases that were not reported to police, Allen said.

One of the indicted men, George Cooley, was defrocked in 1997 after pleading guilty to misdemeanor sex abuse charges in Hamilton County Municipal Court. Yesterday, Cooley was indicted on eight felony counts of gross sexual imposition.

The indictment says Cooley began molesting an 8-year-old boy at Guardian Angels Parish in suburban Cincinnati in 1984, and continued the abuse until the boy was 12. The victim is now in his late 20s and came forward only recently, prosecutors said.

Cooley, who could not be located for comment, faces 24 to 80 years imprisonment if convicted of all eight counts.

Cooley, 54, was kicked out of the priesthood after civil lawsuits in the 1990s identified him as a sexual predator who molested nearly a dozen boys. The archdiocese was accused of transferring him to different parishes and youth camps, where he continued to prey on children. It settled the lawsuits for an undisclosed sum in 2000.

The other priest, Kenneth Schoettmer, has been working as a clerk at the archdiocese's downtown Cincinnati headquarters. Two summers ago, he told his parish he had three sexual encounters with boys in their teens.

Schoettmer, 61, was removed from his post at Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Hamilton when Butler County sheriff's detectives began investigating him two years ago. In a letter to his parish in June 2001 to explain his sudden departure, Schoettmer said the "encounters occurred sometime between 1984 and 1987, and once in 1989."

Schoettmer was charged with gross sexual imposition, rape and sexual battery, stemming from a 1999 incident involving a 17-year-old he was counseling. He faces up to 15 years if convicted. He could not be located for comment.

Dan Andriacco, spokesman for the archdiocese, said Schoettmer is not permitted to wear a Roman collar, cannot call himself father and is barred from presiding over a Mass.

"Basically, he's working as a low-level clerk so he can have something to do," Andriacco said.

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