Report: Cleveland Diocese Slow To Apologize For Alleged Abuse - Cleveland 19 News Cleveland, OH

Report: Cleveland Diocese Slow To Apologize For Alleged Abuse

CLEVELAND (AP) - Victims of abuse by clergy and others working for the Cleveland Catholic Diocese say the local church has been slow to acknowledge their suffering.

"All I wanted was an apology," said a man identified by The Plain Dealer only by the pseudonym Frank. He said he was abused by the pastor of his church when he was a sixth grader at Ascension School in Cleveland in 1984.

"I would be very happy with that, believe you me," the 30-year-old Frank told the paper in Monday's second story of a three-part series of on how the eight-county diocese has responded to abuse allegations.

By contrast, the paper said, a bishop in Louisiana met with victims of clergy sexual abuse to personally apologize and in Oregon an archbishop issued an apology read at every church.

Frank, who sued the Cleveland diocese in 1999, was in his mid-20s when he finally told his parents, and asked Bishop Anthony Pilla in a letter to acknowledge his suffering.

Frank said the response was a letter that never mentioned that the diocese had acknowledged fielding sexual-abuse allegations about the accused priest at least 15 years before Frank met him.

Auxiliary Bishop A. James Quinn said it would be difficult to apologize in Frank's case because the priest denied the abuse. Quinn said the diocese would welcome hearing from Frank if he feels he needs counseling.

Diocesan officials said the church offers counseling in all abuse cases it considers reasonable -- even when the alleged victims have sued.

In a letter sent to all diocesan churches last week, Pilla said, "It is my desire that the church be present in whatever way possible to those who have suffered such abuse."

Mark Chopko, general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that as real as the financial risks of lawsuits by abuse victims have become, the church's religious mandate must take precedence.

Apologizing to victims is the right thing and it can be done without seriously affecting the church's financial liability, Chopko said.

"The right thing to do is to acknowledge the hurt," Chopko said, "and to say that we're sorry for this."

Although he acknowledged that alleged victims might not hear it, Quinn said the diocese always apologizes when someone claims abuse by a priest. But when the allegations are disputed, even that can be problematic, he said, especially when lawyers get involved.

"Once you have an attorney, it's an adversarial kind of relationship," Quinn said. "I think the bishop is always going to be concerned about stepping in and talking to any client who is represented by an attorney. The potential for misunderstanding is enormous."

The diocese has been named in at least 20 sex-abuse lawsuits since 1986, along with 15 men -- clergy and Catholic-school faculty alike -- accused of molesting children and adolescents, according to The Plain Dealer. The paper spent months reviewing court documents and interviewing victims, diocesan officials and others.

Diocesan officials could not be reached for further comment. A message seeking comment was left Sunday and early Monday, when diocesan offices were closed for the weekend.

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

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