A county grand jury indicted a current and a former Roman Catholic priest Friday on charges of sexual crimes involving boys.
The indictments were the first charges to result from a yearlong investigation into whether Archdiocese of Cincinnati priests or other staff may have sexually abused children or failed to report possible crimes. Prosecutors said the investigation is continuing.
The archdiocese said it regretted the charges and is cooperating with the investigation.
The Rev. Kenneth Schoettmer, who is on leave, was charged with gross sexual imposition, sexual battery and rape, Hamilton County Prosecutor Michael Allen said. Schoettmer is accused of using force to sexually abuse a 17-year-old boy he was counseling in 1999. If convicted of all charges, he could get 15 years in prison.
The former Rev. George Cooley was charged with eight felony charges of gross sexual imposition, each punishable by three to 10 years in prison. Allen said Cooley abused a boy from age 8 to 12, starting in 1984. The abuse began when Cooley was a priest at Guardian Angels Parish in Cincinnati and continued during several of the priest’s subsequent assignments, Allen said.
Cooley was removed from the priesthood over his objections in 1997 after an ecclesiastical trial, archdiocese officials said. He went to jail for three months in 1991 after being convicted of molesting boys. He then served 15 more months for violating probation by leaving the county.
Schoettmer was placed on leave in 2001 after admitting to his congregation at Queen of Peace Church in Millville in neighboring Butler County that he had sexual encounters with three male teens between 1984 and 1999. The sheriff’s department there found no evidence to support prosecution, spokesman Monte Mayer said Friday.
Schoettmer is not allowed to present himself as a priest, wear the Roman collar or administer sacraments, archdiocese spokesman Dan Andriacco said.
Arrest warrants were issued Friday. Cooley and Schoettmer had not been arrested as of Friday afternoon.
Cooley and Schoettmer could not be reached for comment. They had no listed telephone numbers, and authorities did not immediately know their whereabouts.
“Child abuse, particularly by members of the clergy, is a matter of great pain to me as archbishop of Cincinnati and to the entire Catholic community,” Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk said in a statement. “I deeply regret that anyone representing the archdiocese, especially any priest, has ever committed this repugnant crime. I pray that these indictments will lead to justice and a measure of healing for the victims.”
The Roman Catholic Church is under increased scrutiny nationwide because of accusations that priests sexually abused young boys and that church superiors knew about the problems, but concealed them.
Dr. Michael Hancock, a physician who leads a Cincinnati chapter of Survivors of Those Abused by Priests, an advocacy group for people sexually abused by clergy, said he was encouraged by the indictments.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction. The more that these crimes are exposed, the better it is for the victims,” Hancock said Friday.
Allen began investigating after Pilarczyk said last March that as many as five priests accused of abusing teenagers were working in the archdiocese. Pilarczyk said none of those priests was in positions where they would be a risk to children.
Prosecutors investigated sexual abuse claims from about 75 people, Allen said. He said some of the allegations were not crimes and that some that appeared to be crimes could not be pursued because the deadline for prosecuting the cases ran out.
“It’s devastating to the victims. It’s frustrating to us. Our hands are tied,” Allen said of the older cases.
Some of the allegations dated back 25 to 40 years, and some of the priests who were accused have died, he said at a news conference.
Allen criticized the archdiocese last year for not readily providing documents he sought for his investigation. Archdiocese lawyers said, however, they were giving all the information they believed they could provide without violating privacy rights of employees.
Pilarczyk said the archdiocese’s cooperation helped lead to the indictments.
He said the accusation against Cooley, who had been removed from parish ministry in 1984, was presented to prosecutors as soon as the archdiocese learned of it in December. The accusation against Schoettmer was one of several that led to his leave, and church officials cooperated with a sheriff’s department investigation at that time, Pilarczyk said.