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Catholic Diocese of Cleveland says it will name priests removed decades ago over child sex abuse accusations

October 2, 2018

Catholic Diocese of Cleveland says it will name priests removed decades ago over child sex abuse accusations

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The Catholic Diocese of Cleveland said Tuesday it plans to publicly name any priest who was removed from their posts decades ago due to allegations of child sex abuse, even if the priest is now dead.

In a statement to cleveland.com, Deacon James Armstrong said the diocese “is currently working to identify any cleric removed from ministry prior to 2002 due to allegations that they sexually abused a minor.”

The names would be added to a website the diocese has maintained since 2002, include deceased priests, go back “as far as our records allow,” and be published in a list format “in the near future,” Armstrong said.

The Catholic Diocese of Cleveland’s statement came in response to questions cleveland.com sent Armstrong Monday.

The pledge would make Cleveland’s diocese, the state’s largest diocese and currently under the direction of Bishop Nelson Perez, the fourth of six in Ohio to commit to releasing the lists in the wake of the release of a landmark Pennsylvania grand jury report that found sex abuse and institutional cover-ups ran rampant in that state’s dioceses.

The report, released in August, named 300 priests and outlined the details of sexual abuse allegations, some of which were committed in Northeast Ohio.

The Catholic Diocese of Columbus and Steubenville’s diocese each said last week they would release a list in the next few months that will include the names of clergy who have been credibly accused of abuse, the Associated Press reported. The Youngstown diocese made a similar announcement in early September.

Then-Cuyahoga County Prosecutor William Mason launched his own grand jury investigation in 2002 that uncovered allegations against more than 140 priests in the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland spanning decades.

More than sixty of the accused priests still lived in Northeast Ohio at the time of the investigation, according to court records at the time.

The investigation resulted in a handful of indictments, only one of which named a priest.

Unlike Pennsylvania, the full findings of Mason’s investigation -- and the names of the accused priests -- were never made public. A lawyer hired by then Bishop Anthony Pilla threatened to sue Mason’s office if it released the files to the media, and Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge Brian Corrigan ruled the documents must remain secret due to protect the secrecy of the grand jury process.

The diocese began in 2002 to publish on a website names of priests who had been removed from assignments due to child sex abuse allegations. The website currently lists 29 priests with allegations that span decades, Armstrong said.

The U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops in 2003 approved a zero-tolerance policy for child sex abuse allegations, and Cleveland adopted its own policy to immediately report all allegations of child sex abuse at the hands of a cleric to both authorities and the Diocesan Review Board, Armstrong said.

If the cleric admits to sexually abusing a minor, is found guilty of sexually abusing a minor in a criminal court or the Review Board finds that all of the evidence shows that it is more likely than not that the cleric sexually abused a minor, the diocese removes the priest from ministry, Armstrong said.

“It would be wrong to suggest that the Diocese of Cleveland has not committed to release the names of clerics accused of sexually abusing a minor or that it desires to keep secret the names of such clerics,” Armstrong said.

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