Local Catholics want leaders held accountable

Pope’s summit on sexual abuse stirs emotions from victims, hope from church for watershed year.

Area Catholics — including ones sexually abused by priests and those working to end the problem — are waiting for the outcome of an unprecedented summit convened by Pope Francis that ends tomorrow.

But area survivors of clergy sexual abuse — as well as the leader of southwest Ohio Catholics — say justice can’t be served until the church holds not only abusive priests to account, but also those at the top of the hierarchy who hid the abuse.

“It would seem that accountability standards for bishops should not be necessary, but unfortunately we know from hard experience that they are,” wrote Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr to the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, home to 450,000 Catholics. “Indeed, the current crisis is largely a bishop accountability crisis, not a priest abuse crisis.”

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Montgomery County Common Pleas Court Judge Mary Katherine Huffman, who just completed a four-year term on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ National Review Board, agreed. The review board is consulted on cases resulting from the national Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, adopted by U.S. churches in 2002 to set firm rules.

“This charter tells bishops what they have to do. It doesn’t say what happens to a bishop if they don’t do it,” she said.

It remains unclear whether the four-day meeting of 190 of the Roman Catholic Church’s top leadership will result in a zero-tolerance change to canon law that many survivors say is the only acceptable outcome.

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“My perpetrator is still alive but is not in jail. The man that allowed him to hurt me and so many other kids … is not in jail. None of the administrators at the high school I attended who knew about his history but didn’t call the police were ever called to account,” said Daniel Frondorf, now 53.

Frondorf said he was abused as a student at Elder High School by the school’s former principal, Lawrence Strittmatter, a former priest who now lives in Beavercreek.

Strittmatter was removed from the priesthood in 2006 after being accused of molesting 28 boys throughout the ‘70s and early ‘80s. He could not be reached for comment for this story.

Then-Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk knew about the abuse of young boys and failed to stop it, said Frondorf, a leader of Cincinnati’s Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, commonly called SNAP.

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‘He sent him away for therapy’

“He knew that Strittmatter was the problem, and he did nothing. He sent him away for therapy,” Frondorf said. “He could have prevented my abuse and the abuse of others had he done something as soon as he knew about it.”

Since the 2002 charter, most allegations of sexual abuse coming to the U.S. church — including those in the recent Pennsylvania report — have dated before the decree, Huffman said.

“The church has seen a reduced potential because of that. Are we ever going to eliminate it? That’s not humanly possible, unfortunately,” she said. “Priests are humans, they are going to commit sex offenses.”

Pope Francis, leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics, opened the meeting Thursday with startling cases of sexual abuse still coming to light – one consuming the church in Chile, another resulting in the defrocking of former American Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, and in Pennsylvania where a 2018 report found church leaders covered for more than 300 priests who abused up to 1,000 children over 70 years.

“Listen to the cry of the young, who want justice,” Francis told the church hierarchy. “The holy people of God are watching and expect not just simple and obvious condemnations, but efficient and concrete measures to be established.”

‘Watershed year in dealing with this evil’

Schnurr said last year will be “remembered with pain and anger” due to new revelations about the sexual abuse of minors but hopes the 2019 “will be a watershed year in dealing with this evil around the world.”

Since 1998 in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, 10 priests have been permanently removed due to child sexual abuse allegations and were no longer allowed to function anywhere as a priest. Another four were permanently removed from ministry but remained under the authority of the archbishop to lead a life of prayer and penance. Another priest died while his case was in process.

Also, according to records maintained by the archdiocese, five Jesuit priests were subject to established allegations of sexual abuse of minors while ministering in the archdiocese during the 1950s and 1960s. Another Jesuit ministering in the archdiocese had a credible allegation from another state.

Archdiocesan figures show the local church has spent more than $5.6 million in child protection expenses since 2003. That year, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati became the first Catholic diocese in the U.S. to be criminally charged for failing to report sexual abuse of children by priests.

Huffman and Jennifer Schack, an Archdiocese of Cincinnati spokeswoman, say gains have been made in the U.S — with serious efforts starting even earlier in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. The archdiocese was the first in Ohio to draft a decree to protect children in 1993, said Schack.

Over the years the document has evolved, “but it was a specific action taken to bring this into the light and to address this issue and to obviously show the church’s sincerity in fixing this,” Schack said. “It has remained throughout its entirety alerting people of the archdiocese that their primary step should they come across something or hear something is to alert the authorities. That’s where we’ve been now for many years.”

An ‘absolute position’

Huffman said since at least 2002 the church has taken an “absolute position” that reports of sexual abuse by clergy be reported to civil authorities.

“This is not an internal church problem, it is a civil criminal problem also,” she said.

The U.S. church also requires annual audits and every three years a physical inspection of paperwork to ensure clergy and others who interact with children are meeting the letter of the charter, Huffman said.

According to the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, all employees who working with children, including bishops, priests and deacons are subject to:

• Fingerprinting and complete background checks;

• Ongoing training on recognizing the signs of abuse of children and vulnerable adults;

• Immediate reporting of abuse to the appropriate civil authorities;

• A lay-dominated Child Protection Review Board, currently including an abuse survivor, which reviews and advises the archbishop on all child abuse allegations.

Additionally, every applicant to the seminary in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati undergoes psychological testing prior to acceptance. Once accepted, the candidate has at least four years of training during which his disposition, behavior, self-awareness, and stability are evaluated, according to the archdiocese.

There are no active cases of clerical abuse by minors in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, according to Schnurr.

Challenging the pope

The procedures taken by the church today came too late for Ginny Hoehne of Fort Loramie and her son David, who at age 12 was molested in 1980 by their parish priest, the Rev. Thomas Hopp. She remains skeptical change has come — or ever will.

“It’s an inside clerical problem, and they choose not to want to see their own sins, their own evil, their own horrible acts they have committed on children,” said Hoehne, who is active with the National Survivor Advocates Coalition.

Confronted with a letter David Hoehne sent to the archbishop years later in 2002 as well as allegations from others, Hopp admitted to the abuse and was removed from ministry by the Vatican in 2005.

“These survivors are all there now challenging the pope to finally step up and if nothing else remove every bishop, every priest who either has abused or who has hidden those who have abused,” Ginny Hoehne said.

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