By David E. Lister
With the Grand jurors taking their seats to hear testimony against the Archdiocese of Cincinnati relating to their failure to report the misdeeds of priests, the archdiocese quickly sought an to end their legal problems. On November 20, 2003 the Archbishop Daniel E. Pilaczyk appeared before Common Plea Judge Richard Niehaus. Judge Niehaus asked the Archbishop if he understood what he was pleading no contest to. Looking pale, the archbishop stood before the judge and answered, “Right.” With that one word answer the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and its Archbishop have brought the Roman Catholic Church to a status of guilty of breaking the law of Ohio and the United States.
The Archbishop entered a plea of no contest to the charges of failing to report sexually abusive priests in the 1970′s and 80′s. The Archdiocese was fined $10,000, which is the maximum penalty possible. This is the first time a Roman Catholic organization has been convicted on criminal charges related to mishandling sexual abuse cases. The Roman Catholic Church admits to the truth of five, fourth degree misdemeanor charges. In similar cases, other Archdioceses from Phoenix and Manchester, N.H. have signed agreements to admit wrongdoing but got a free ride from prosecution. The archdiocese also agreed to establish a $3 million fund to compensate sexual abuse victims whose cases fall outside the statue of limitations.
The no contest pleas will benefit the archdiocese in current and future civil proceedings originating from people who were abused by these priests that this archdiocese helped to cover up. In a civil proceeding, a no contest judgment cannot be brought up or used against the archdiocese. Currently there are at least 67 people with lawsuits against the archdiocese.
Leaders of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, which pressed for prosecutions of church leaders, criticized the arrangement because it allows for no individual to be held responsible. The lead prosecutor states that the Archdiocese is held responsible and this prosecution should send a clear and unequivocal message to others. With past cover-ups and the first chairman of the Roman Catholic Church’s own investigation committee on sexual abuse resigning in disgust over its cover-ups, it is doubtful the Roman Catholic Church has gotten the message. Even after the no contest plea, the Archbishop Pilaczyk addressed the press stating that he did not intend to resign and then went further to show his failure to grasp the gravity of the situation by saying, “Failure to report a crime is just that, it is not some sort of concerted effort to conceal.” Before this last statement was said a prepared statement was read by the archbishop, expressing shame and grief, and asking for forgiveness.
A number of bishops within the Cincinnati archdiocese have announced settlements with sexual abuse victims and reported to authorities the names or numbers of priests or other diocesan employees dismissed after abuse accusations. This move was seen as a way to start to clean house and put this matter behind them. Others see this move as a way to avoid prosecution and humiliation faced by the archbishop.
The sentencing judge, Niehaus, a Roman Catholic, went on to chastised his church in the open courtroom and further stated, “I believe that a religious organization that not only should follow the civil law but also the moral law lost its way and I believe that all religious organizations ought to show grater respect for human rights and not try to preserve themselves at the expense of the victims.” For the sake of the innocence we hope that the judge is right.