Church Members Speak Out On Behalf Of Priest

By M.R. KROPKO, Associated Press Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) - Church members on Wednesday night defended a Cleveland Catholic Diocese priest on administrative leave amid allegations of sexual abuse of minors.

The diocese on July 4 placed the Rev. James Viall, pastor at St. Rose of Lima church in Cleveland, on leave, along with two priests in other parishes.

The Cleveland diocese has 235 parishes with more than 800,000 Catholics in Ashland, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain, Medina, Summit and Wayne counties. Fifteen priests are on leave pending investigation of allegations.

About 300 St. Rose parishioners packed the church hall in a meeting with the Rev. Lawrence Jurcak, director of clergy personnel for the diocese.

Jurcak acknowledged the congregation's loyalty to Viall, 73, and anger that he has been removed from ministry, although possibly only temporarily.

Church members loudly jeered when Jurcak mentioned there are new allegations against Viall in a civil lawsuit filed Tuesday in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court. Jurcak said those allegations, through an unidentified John Doe plaintiff, allege child endangering and other wrongful acts.

Parishioners did not say their names as they spoke at a microphone in the room. Most strongly denied having any knowledge of improper behavior by their priest.

A man at the gathering spoke of Viall's "unflagging spiritual leadership" and added that the church members believe Viall "has already been done irreparable harm."

Church members posted a sign at the door in large letters saying: Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness.

Jurcak told one of the church members: "I can appreciate your anger and the anger of the group here." But he said it's up to civil authorities and the courts to decide the merit of the allegations.

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