A woman who claims an Oblate priest sexually abused her over a four-year-period that began when she was a fourth grader filed suit yesterday in Lucas County Common Pleas Court against the Toledo Catholic Diocese, the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, and a West Toledo Catholic church.
Teresa Bombrys alleges Chet Warren sexually abused her while she was a parishioner at St. Piux X Church and a student at the parish grade school in the early 1970s.
She claims the abuse ended in 1974, when the Oblates transferred Mr. Warren, who is now defrocked, to a parish in Taylor, Mich. He could not be reached for comment.
In a news conference to announce the filing of the lawsuit, William M. Crosby, a Cleveland attorney representing Ms. Bombrys, said the Toledo Diocese and Oblates intimidated his client and others to prevent them from exposing alleged sexual abuses. He said the Diocese and Oblates offered “hush money” for their silence.
The two-year statute of limitation to file a civil lawsuit for the alleged actions has passed, but Mr. Crosby said he would argue in the courts that religious leaders engaged in a pattern of corrupt activity, including not reporting incidents to police and silencing witnesses, to hinder legal action that could have been taken earlier.
Also at the news conference was Barbara Blaine, a former Toledoan who now lives in Chicago. She said Mr. Warren sexually abused her as well; she received an out-of-court settlement from the diocese in 1994.
Ms. Blaine, now 45, claims when she was 13, Mr. Warren initiated a relationship with her that included hugging, kissing, and fondling, but never intercourse. She said the relationship continued until she was a senior in high school, and she asked him to end it.
Ms. Bombrys asked the court for more than $1 million in punitive damages and $25,000 in compensatory damages. The complaint was assigned to Judge Frederick McDonald.
The Rev. James Cryan, superior of the Oblates religious community in Toledo, said Ms. Bombrys told him about a year and a half ago she had been abused.
“I told Theresa that if there was more I could do, or should do, to let me know. It has been an amicable relationship,” he said.
Father Cryan denied money was paid to cover up sexual abuses, but the order provided counseling to victims who were abused. “I would not call that hush money. To me, that is a healthy way of helping people through this,” he said.
Ms. Bombrys, 41, who now lives in Hillard, Ohio, did not attend the news conference. She prepared a written statement read by Marcia Blaine-Holtz, Ms. Blaine's sister.
“I have been suffering in silence for too long. Today I am ending the silence in hopes it will help me to find the healing I need to make my life whole,” the statement said. “My silence over these years has allowed the church to continue their history of secrecy in dealing with priests who molest children. I can no longer allow my silence to perpetuate this long-standing policy for dealing with child molestation.”
Ms. Blaine founded Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, a national support group.
“We shouldn't be surprised that Teresa has taken many years to come forward. One of the devastating impacts of being sexually molested at a young age is that the victims are always led to believe that it is their fault,” she said. “Theresa kept silent. I also kept silent for many years.”
Mr. Warren, who also was named as a defendant in the lawsuit, stepped down as chaplain at St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center in 1993 after allegations that he abused Ms. Blaine were reported in The Blade.
Father Cryan said he received at least three complaints from others about inappropriate touching or hugging in the days after the report of Ms. Blaine's allegations.
Father Cryan said Mr. Warren was sent to a psychiatric treatment center in Maryland but checked himself out three days later. Mr. Warren was dismissed from the order in 1994 after he refused to cooperate with an inquiry into his behavior.
“He was very uncooperative, which impeded our efforts to work with him or the victims. He lived in absolute denial,” Father Cryan said.
He said a settlement was reached with Ms. Blaine through mediation. He said Ms. Bombrys is the first person to file a complaint alleging impropriety by Mr. Warren.