Prosecutor expects indictments against several priests

CLEVELAND (AP) - A six-month investigation into allegations of child sex abuse in the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland should result in several indictments, according to the prosecutor handling the investigation.

"As a Catholic, I can't understand it," Cuyahoga County Prosecutor William Mason told The Plain Dealer for a story Saturday. "I guess it's probably a product of hundreds of years of how the church chose to deal with it. It's a very secret society."

The full returns from the investigation won't be known until Dec. 3 when the nine members of the grand jury decide whether to indict any of the 100 priests or 260 others connected with the diocese who have been accused of sexually abusing children.

He said about half a dozen cases could go either way, depending on the grand jury's mindset. Most of the cases are either too old or too weak to be prosecuted, Mason said.

Last week, Mason mailed about 25 packets of information his staff collected from diocesan files and interviews with nearly 800 self-described victims of sex abuse over the past 50 years.

The files contain evidence of child sex abuse in six states and 17 Ohio counties that Mason investigated but are outside of the county's jurisdiction, he said.

Several boxes of additional files with potentially stronger cases were hand-delivered Friday to prosecutors in Summit and Lake counties, where the crimes supposedly occurred. About 10 of the outside cases are strong enough to result in charges, Mason said.

The grand jury has heard testimony twice a week for the past two months from victims, police and 25 assistant county prosecutors, Mason said.

It has been a complete accounting of all known allegations of child sex abuse in the diocese, he said.

The diocese, in response to a wide-ranging subpoena, turned over more than 37,000 pages of documents.

Mason has said the diocese has been cooperative and has not held anything back.

In May, Bishop Anthony M. Pilla said priests guilty of sexual abuse against a child would be permanently banned from the ministry.

Diocesan spokesmen did not return calls seeking comment on Saturday.

Diocesan officials this year have suspended 15 priests accused of child sexual abuse. Thirteen former and retired priests also have been named by the diocese.

The Rev. Donald Rooney killed himself in April after Pilla summoned him to discuss an abuse allegation against him.

The Cleveland diocese has 235 parishes with more than 800,000 Catholics and about 340 priests in Ashland, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain, Medina, Summit and Wayne counties.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)