Local Bishop Forming Committee To Examine Child Sex Abuse Cases

CLEVELAND (AP) - Cleveland Catholic Diocese Bishop Anthony Pilla said he is forming a commission to evaluate the handling of child sex abuse cases within the diocese.

The announcement was the diocese's first response to a Plain Dealer series two weeks ago that examined methods of dealing with sex-abuse allegations involving priests and other church employees. The newspaper reported Tuesday that more than 500 people responded to the series with phone calls, voicemail messages, letters and e-mails.

"I want to assure those of you who have expressed your criticism, anger and concern that my staff and I are carefully reflecting on what you have told us and on what has been expressed in the media," Pilla said in an open letter to all priests and parishes in the diocese.

The letter, announcing the creation of the committee, is to be read or included in church published materials at every Mass on April 7, the Sunday after Easter.

The Roman Catholic Church has struggled with sexual abuse scandals nationwide since January, after disclosure that a Boston-area priest suspected of abuse was moved from parish to parish.

In Hamilton County, prosecutors on Monday served the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati with a subpoena requesting records of abuse allegations.

Pilla asked William Denihan, former head of Cuyahoga County's Department of Children and Family Services from 1999 to 2001, to head the committee and report his findings in six weeks.

Denihan, 65, was Cleveland safety director for nine years. He ran unsuccessfully for Cleveland mayor last year.

Denihan said he hopes to assemble an eight- to 10-member panel from the ranks of child-abuse experts, mental-health specialists, police officers and victims of sexual abuse.

"Bishop Pilla is very open, very concerned and determined to do what's expected and right and in the best interest of the children and the people of the diocese," Denihan said Monday.

Fifteen years ago, after a flurry of clergy-abuse stories rocked the diocese, Pilla created an advisory committee to find better ways to respond to sex-abuse cases. Shortly thereafter, a diocesan policy was approved.

Pilla said Denihan's group would determine if diocesan policy is properly applied when sex-abuse allegations surface against clergy or lay diocesan employees.

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