“As your bishop, I am saddened and embarrassed by these acts of abuse affecting our children,” Bishop Hoffman wrote. “Past vigilance has been found wanting. Catholics feel betrayed by those who have committed these actions. I sense the deep anger of many of our people as they read of these revelations.”
In an interview at the Catholic Office Building downtown, Bishop Hoffman said he wants to “give our people the assurance of what we're doing at the present time to try to protect their children.”
He said the diocese has adhered to guidelines it adopted in 1995 that were drafted by a committee of experts, including a pediatrician, psychologists, and attorneys, as well as local church leaders.
The policy calls for prompt investigation of allegations, compliance with state reporting laws, pastoral response to victims and their families, monitoring of accused persons, therapy and rehabilitation for offenders, and preventive screening and education.
The Toledo Catholic Diocese, which has 325,000 members and 140 active priests and spans 19 counties in northwest Ohio, also appointed a case manager in 1995 who is responsible for hearing complaints, investigating allegations, and providing pastoral care.
Frank DiLallo, a licensed counselor, has been the diocesan case manager since 1996.
“In the last six years that I have been doing this, there have been absolutely no allegations of priests abusing children,” Mr. DiLallo said.
He said he is handling four cases at the moment involving reports of child abuse, and all are alleged to have occurred at least 20 years ago. One of the cases involves allegations dating to the 1950s.
“Two priests, in the history of our diocese, were diagnosed as pedophiles,” Mr. DiLallo said.
They were sent away for treatment and are now deceased, he said. “The cases that are coming up are around these two priests and continue to be around these two priests,” he said.
Bishop Hoffman said in his letter and in the interview that he urges anyone who has been abused by a bishop, priest, deacon, or any church employee to contact the diocesan case manager.
“Any time it becomes a major issue in the national media, maybe it's right for someone who's been quiet all these years finally to put his or her case forward,” the bishop said.
Mr. DiLallo said there are three priests currently serving in the diocese who have been involved in “improprieties” with adults or older teens.
“They are no longer in ministry with youth, they have been reassigned and monitored very closely by the vicar for priests,” he said. “They have been identified and are continuing with counseling and treatment.”
One of the reinstated priests was convicted in 1988 of a misdemeanor charge of sexual imposition after having been accused of molesting a 14-year-old girl, a member of his own parish. He served 30 days in jail and went through the diocese rehabilitation program.
The Rev. Nicholas Weibl, vicar for priests and deacons, is responsible for pastoral care of clergy. When a priest or church worker is accused of sexual misconduct, Father Weibl said he tries to follow up within 48 hours.
He said he is unaware of any pedophile situations in the diocese.
“If there's a valid complaint, we definitely get in touch with the priest, and if there is anything to it, he will be removed until the situation is cleared up,” Father Weibl said. “If he is found to be the offender, then there is immediate psychological evaluations, a diagnosis of the situation, and possible treatment. There is also contact with civil authorities if there is a minor involved.”
Bishop Hoffman said recent reports from Boston and elsewhere distort the public's perception of the problem.
A study of more than 2,200 priests who served in the Archdiocese of Chicago during the past 40 years, for example, concluded that 1.8 percent had been guilty of sexual misconduct with minors.
“One case is too many,” Bishop Hoffman said. “It's not as though we want to keep the number modest or small. We don't want any of our priests involved in this kind of behavior.”
Bishop Hoffman said he does not believe that celibacy is the issue behind the sexual-abuse cases. But he said the church should feel free to “think about” changing the ecclesiastical law requiring celibacy for priests.
He was optimistic that the national scandal would not affect local Catholics' financial giving, especially since the diocese is in the middle of a $60 million fund-raising campaign.
He also expressed hope that the negative reports elsewhere will not deter young people from considering the priesthood, and he urged continued diligence in psychological screening of seminary candidates.
John F. Hayward, an attorney representing the Toledo Diocese, said he has not handled any legal cases involving sexual misconduct since 1993.
All priests, teachers, coaches, members of religious orders, and volunteers in the diocese are required to attend a six-hour educational seminar called “Protecting Youth and Those Who Serve Them.”
Mr. Hayward said he addresses legal issues during the seminar and stresses that Ohio law requires priests to report “anything that comes to your attention outside of the confessional.”
Any crimes or allegations revealed during confession are confidential and excluded from law, but the diocesan policy states that “the confessor should urge the offender to obtain immediate medical and psychological help” and “assist the penitent in moving the discussion into the external nonsacramental forum.”
Mr. DiLallo instructs priests, religious orders, Catholic school teachers, and CYO coaches on how to recognize signs of abuse, how to protect youths, and what is acceptable behavior.
“A big part of the policy is nonfraternization with the youth and what does that mean, what do we expect.”
Once a priest or religious leader is removed from his or her office for sexual misconduct, they can be reinstated after undergoing residential therapy, are monitored while working in a charitable service such as a soup kitchen, and are recommended for reinstatement by a professional, nonclergy review board, Bishop Hoffman said.
“In cases where a priest is involved with prepubertal children, let's say altar boys, he would not be reinstated to ministry,” the bishop said.
The bishop's letter to area Catholics and a complete copy of the diocese's “Policy on Response to Child Abuse and Adult Sexual Misconduct” have just been made available on the diocese's web site, www.toledodiocese.org.