Catholic church officials will soon take administrative action that could result in the removal of five Greater Cincinnati priests accused of sexual misconduct.
Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk said Wednesday the new sexual abuse policy approved last week by the Vatican requires bishops to begin administrative proceedings against accused priests.
He said the archdiocese must send a report about each priest to the Vatican, which will either recommend the priest’s removal or order an ecclesiastical trial to decide his fate.
A trial, which would be held in accord with church law, is necessary only if the priest denies the allegations.
Archbishop Pilarczyk said the new rules would have the most immediate impact on five priests who remain employed by the 19-county Archdiocese of Cincinnati despite past allegations of sexual misconduct.
The archbishop has said the priests have been allowed to remain with the church because they are not in contact with children and pose no threat to the public. The new abuse policy, however, requires church officials to remove them from ministry if the allegations are proven.
Although church officials have said the allegations against the five priests have been “substantiated,” they have not said whether the priests have admitted to any misconduct.
Archbishop Pilarczyk said church officials will spend the next few months preparing reports about the five priests for the Vatican. Because all of the allegations date back at least 10 years – and some more than 20 years – the preparation will include a new investigation into each case.
“We want to proceed deliberately and justly,” the archbishop said.
The archbishop first spoke publicly about the priests in March, when abuse scandals erupted in dioceses across the country. He refused at the time to reveal their names or their jobs with the church, saying the victims had requested anonymity.
One of the priests, the Rev. Lawrence Strittmatter, has since become known because he was recently accused of abusing two teen-agers in the 1970s. But church officials still refuse to identify the remaining four priests.
Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen has criticized church officials for not notifying authorities about the old abuse allegations, and he has launched an investigation into the conduct of the priests and their superiors. Church officials say they now notify authorities of all abuse allegations involving children.
Three additional priests have been suspended or have voluntarily taken leave this year because of misconduct allegations.
The archbishop said all accused priests ultimately will face removal from ministry or at least an ecclesiastical trial. Under the new abuse policy, the Vatican has said those proceedings can begin as early as March 1.
Church spokesman Dan Andriacco said the names of the accused priests will be made public if they are removed from ministry.