Bishop Calls For Hope At Funeral Of Priest Who Killed Himself

By THOMAS J. SHEERAN, Associated Press Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) - Roman Catholic Bishop Anthony M. Pilla and more than 100 priests concelebrated the funeral Mass on Tuesday for a priest who killed himself three days after a sex abuse allegation against him surfaced.

"Hope carries us beyond the present pain, anger, loss and confusion to a new day," Pilla said at the funeral for the Rev. Don Rooney, 48.

Rooney (pictured, right) was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound last Thursday in Hinckley, three days after a woman told the diocese that he had sexually abused her when she was a girl in 1980 when he was assigned to Sacred Heart Church in suburban Wadsworth.

"Hope helps us to rise above this seeming defeat and to see the healing love of God," Pilla said in a sermon greeted with applause from the overflow congregation at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Parma where Rooney had been assigned.

Pilla encouraged mourners to be stouthearted in the face of the clergy sex abuse crisis.

"The present -- for all its problems -- is still filled with limitless possibilities," he said. "It is easy to lose our heart and our nerve as the crisis facing the church presses in upon us. It is easy, but it is not necessary."

Pilla has suspended 10 priests in the past two weeks over sex abuse allegations, some dating back decades. The diocese had previously evaluated and treated nine of the priests and there have been no complaints about them since they returned to their jobs, the church said.

The nine suspensions announced Monday came three days after the Cuyahoga County prosecutor subpoenaed the diocese for any abuse-related documents that it had. The church said it would comply with the subpoena.

Greg Brown, 50, a firefighter from nearby Strongsville, attended the Mass on his lunch hour and brought along a placard reading, "This firefighter knows that priests are the real heroes."

"I just wanted to be here to support the priests," Brown said. "I have a great love and respect for them. Many of these men, throughout my life they have administered the sacraments to me and I appreciate what they've done for me."

Rooney's stepbrother, Gary Vasitas, 44, of Sheffield Lake, questioned the timing of the allegation against Rooney.

"Why would you bring this up now," he said in an interview published in The (Elyria) Chronicle Telegram. "Why so long? Look at the result of it. It has tore this family apart. I just don't believe it. For as long as I live, I will never believe it."

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.

A national examination of child sex abuse cases among priests has intensified since January, with the disclosure in Boston that former priest John J. Geoghan was moved from parish to parish after being accused. Since January, several dozen priests out of more than 47,000 nationwide have been suspended or forced to resign.

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