Cleveland Bishop Calls For Prayer, Fidelity

By M.R. KROPKO, Associated Press Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) - Cleveland Roman Catholic Diocese Bishop Anthony Pilla called for prayer and fidelity to bring the church through a sex abuse scandal and asked churchgoers Sunday night to forgive him for any failings in overseeing the diocese.

At a special prayer service at St. John Cathedral in downtown Cleveland, Pilla (pictured, right) told about a thousand parishioners that their presence at the service was "a reminder of a constancy and fidelity to our community in faith and to our beliefs as Catholics."

He referred to the sex abuse scandal as "the most difficult period in living memory" in the church.

Pilla apologized to members of the church who have been harmed by any act of a priest or church staff member.

"I am here to pray the harm you have suffered will be healed and that it will not forever affect your perception of the church and your practice of religion," he said.

He asked the parishioners to pray for priests who have committed crimes and said he intends to do what is necessary to assure church members' safety.

Pilla asked forgiveness for "any pain, suffering or alienation I may have caused anyone. I know my words alone are insufficient. I know that I cannot possibly appreciate the pain of the victims and their families."

He said the church must continue to work within the law to improve policies on sex abuse and treat the injured and those who are guilty.

"The difficulty of the moment is undeniable. We must live through this. In faith and in struggle, in faith and fidelity, we will make our church live and forgive," he said.

For years, Pilla let an auxiliary bishop trained in civil and canon law handle allegations of priests accused of molesting children, a newspaper reported Sunday.

But Pilla took an active role amid the growing scandal when questions emerged about Auxiliary Bishop A. James Quinn's work, The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer reported.

Both bishops turned down interview requests from the newspaper.

Diocese spokesman Bob Tayek declined to comment on the story Sunday.

A woman who said she was abused by a priest in the late 1960s said Quinn rejected her request to pay for her psychological counseling.

In addition, Quinn has been listed as a defendant in several lawsuits filed across the nation. He has been accused of aiding the church in a "racketeering" enterprise by encouraging officials to hide potentially incriminating documents from alleged abuse victims and their attorneys.

A speech on pedophilia that Quinn delivered in 1990 to the Midwest Canon Law Society conference in Columbus has been cited in the lawsuits.

According to a transcript, Quinn told church lawyers that if there is something in a priest's file that "you really don't want people to see, you might send it off to the Apostolic Delegate because they have immunity. Something you consider dangerous, you might send it there."

Quinn has acknowledged under oath that he made the statement, although he said it has been quoted out of context.

Pilla has suspended 12 priests accused of sexually abusing minors.

Jim McCafferty, director of the Cuyahoga County Department of Children and Family Services, said the diocese has given his department eight reports of child sex abuse by its priests in the last 14 years. Five of those reports have arrived since mid-March.

Thirteen other retired and former priests were identified as having been accused in the past of sexual abuse of minors.

The Rev. Donald Rooney, 48, committed suicide last month after the diocese told him to meet with Pilla about allegations that he abused a schoolgirl in 1980 in Wadsworth.

The 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.)