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Published: Tuesday, 6/9/2009

Keep better tabs on clerics in abuse cases, group asks

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR

An advocacy group for victims of clerical sexual abuse called on the Toledo Catholic Diocese Monday to provide special housing and more stringent counseling and monitoring of priests accused of child abuse.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, also asked the Toledo diocese and Bishop Leonard Blair to initiate a policy banning tributes to priests charged with credible allegations of child sexual abuse.

Barbara Blaine, a Toledo native, Chicago lawyer, and founder and president of SNAP, said in a news conference outside the downtown Catholic Center that most Toledo-area priests accused of child abuse receive little or no supervision and continue to pose a threat to children.

"We are concerned that many of them still live in communities where few people are aware of the danger they pose to innocent children," Ms. Blaine said. "Research and experience teach us that most sexual predators molest children throughout their lives. While removing them from active ministry is a good first step, by itself this does not adequately protect children."

Ms. Blaine listed 15 priests nationwide who were accused of sexually abusing children after they were removed from ministry for allegations of molestation.

In most cases in which the diocese removed priests for sexual abuse, no criminal charges were filed, so the accused clerics or deacons are not registered sex offenders. Housing clerics who abused children in church-provided, supervised quarters would mean "kids will be safer" and "the offenders can get treatment," she said.

Ms. Blaine and her sister, Marcia Holt, who also is a member of SNAP, said several U.S. dioceses do provide supervised housing for barred priests.

Sally Oberski, director of communications for the Toledo diocese, issued a statement in response to the SNAP conference but did not address specific concerns.

The statement said the diocese is in "full compliance" with the law and with church policies on sexual abuse of minors. The statement encouraged people to report immediately to civil authorities and to the diocese any suspected child abuse by diocesan personnel, and said the diocese "continues to pray for all victims of abuse of any kind."

Ms. Blaine and Ms. Holt also called for Bishop Blair to take steps to ensure that no public tributes be paid to priests who have been barred from ministry or who faced credible allegations of criminal behavior.

Ms. Blaine pointed to a prominent sign on a wing of the Catholic Center building designating it as "Monsignor Doyle Hall," saying that the diocese paid a settlement to a woman who alleged she was abused as a child by Msgr. Michael Doyle, who died in 1987.

She also called for the removal of an honorary street sign near the Mud Hens' downtown ballpark naming it "Monsignor Jerome Schmit Way," honoring a prominent Catholic cleric who, according to court testimony, interrupted a 1980 police interrogation of the Rev. Gerald Robinson for murder.

The investigation of Robinson for the murder of Sister Margaret Ann Pahl essentially halted after the monsignor's interruption, but the priest was arrested 24 years later and convicted in May, 2006.

"By interfering in the murder investigation, it delayed Father Robinson's conviction for 26 years," Ms. Blaine said.

SNAP produced a letter from Sister Margaret Ann's nephew, Lee Pahl of Edgerton, Ohio, who said it was "reprehensible that those involved in such despicable acts should be honored."

SNAP also criticized Bishop Blair for allowing portraits of barred priests to be displayed in public places, specifically those of the Rev. Neil Lucas at Christ the King Parish and the Rev. Robert Thomas at Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

Ms. Oberski said the portrait of Father Thomas was stolen last spring.

In addition, the program from a Central Catholic High School production of Hello, Dolly! in May included a comment from the Rev. Lawrence Varney, a retired priest whom Bishop Blair removed from ministry in October for a credible allegation of sexual abuse.

Listed under "$50 Gold Patrons," Father Varney wrote: "May God bless all the musicians and cast of Hello, Dolly!"



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