The Roman Catholic Diocese of Cleveland Friday released the names of 22 additional priests and other clergy members accused of sexual abuse against minors, adding another layer to a scandal that has brought significant shame and controversy to the Catholic Church around the world.
In a letter to the faithful, Bishop Nelson J. Perez said the newly released names are of clergymen "against whom substantiated allegations have been made of sexual abuse of a child." The allegations date back decades, and one of the priests was ordained as early as 1922.
One of the new names was technically already public: Father Daniel McBride, who was the only clergy member criminally charged in a wide-reaching 2002 probe by the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office. McBride served three years probation following a guilty plea of soliciting sex from a 17-year-old boy. He was placed on administrative leave that same year, and never returned to active ministry prior to his 2015 death.
Of the other 21 new names, the following 15 priests have since died (all priests unless otherwise noted):
- John Ciolek
- John Connor
- Joseph Ehrbar
- John Jacoby
- Edward Kickel
- Liam Kitt
- Frank Klamet
- Nicholas Monaghan
- John Mueller
- Donald Rooney
- Julius Slapsak
- James Viall
- John Vovko
- Carl Wernet
- John Wittreich
In addition, four other living clergymen are no longer in any type of active ministry: Deacon Jerome Bals and Father Joseph Seminatore have both been permanently removed from ministry, while Kenneth Bogucki and Joseph Williams have each been "defrocked," meaning they are no longer priests.
The diocese also revealed two additional priests were placed on administrative leave just today, presumably due to old allegations that are only now being made public. One of them, Father James McGonegal, previously pleaded guilty in 2014 to charges of soliciting sex from a Metroparks ranger. His record appears to have been expunged after he completed an early intervention program and he remained an official priest, although he is not known to have been in any other active ministry since. The allegations placing him on leave today appear to be separate, and the Vatican is now considering defrocking him.
Another priest, Father Anthony Schuerger, is currently head pastor at St. Malachi Parish near Cleveland's Irishtown Bend. The exact details of the allegations against him have not been made public, but the case is currently being investigated by the diocesan review board.
The child sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church first came to light in 2002, first in Boston, then throughout the United States, and later around the world. Multiple investigations revealed not only abuse by a number of priests and religious, but also a campaign of cover-up by several senior church officials for decades.
The Church has enacted several reforms since then, and the Diocese of Cleveland started its own website in April of that year that has named all accused clergy members and their status in the church, from when they are placed on leave to even possible defrocking or criminal penalties. Prior to today, the diocese had named 29 religious members who had been credibly accused of sexual abuse since 2002.
But most allegations prior to that year remained a mystery, and became subject of a probe by then-Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill Mason. The probe reportedly yielded the names of 145 priests with "credible" allegations of sexual abuse against them, but only Daniel McBride was eventually charged due to statute of limitations laws. The rest of the list was never made public due to a ruling from a Cuyahoga County judge.
Following a Pennsylvania grand jury report last year that named more than 300 abusive priests over a decades-long span, Bishop Perez joined several dioceses across Ohio and the country in pledging to release the names of priests whose allegations pre-dated 2002. Today's newly-released names come after an extensive review of diocesan records by an advisory committee, but the number still falls well short of the alleged 145 on Mason's list.
However, the diocese does admit that "the fact that the name of an accused diocesan cleric does not appear on this list is not a repudiation of the allegation or a denial that the alleged abuse occurred," and and that the list itself should be considered a "work in progress" as allegations continue to be reviewed. In addition, unlike the Pennsylvania report, nothing is said about what prior bishops or other diocese leaders may or may not have known about these allegations, nearly all of which occurred long before the appointment of Bishop Perez or even his immediate predecessor, current Bishop Emeritus Richard Lennon.
Bishop Perez wrote in his letter that, in accordance with Vatican guidelines written up after the Boston revelations, "any allegation of child sexual abuse that becomes known to the diocese is reported directly to civil authorities." He also pledge to do more to help victims of abuse, including prayer and support groups this summer as well as the continuing of investigations.
"Once again, I express my deepest sorrow and offer apologies on behalf of the Church for the harm done to those most vulnerable," the bishop said. "Let us continue to hope in the Lord who can heal us from the effects of even the greatest wounds and who, through his own Passion and death, joins us in our pain and makes all things new."