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Creating New Church Policy

Thursday, August 15, 2002 at 4:28 PM

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This week parishes throughout the Cleveland Diocese are starting to weigh in on a new plan to deal with sexual abuse cases in the church. A special commission formed to examine how the diocese handles such cases, gave Bishop Anthony Pilla the proposal last week. ideastream's Renita Jablonski brings us up to date on this story, and reports that while members of the 22-member commission are pleased with the progress they've made, one alleged victim is speaking out and calling for Bishop Pilla to step down.

Renita Jablonski: Just five days after Easter, 30-year old Regina Scolaro received a call from her mother that she’ll never forget.

Regina Scolaro: It’s kind of one of those things where you remember where you were when, you know, the planes hit the building in New York last year or where you were when the Challenger exploded. But, I was in the kitchen and my mother called me and she said, “Oh my gosh, I forgot to tell you that Father Rooney killed himself, he’s dead.” And I just was silent.

RJ: Father Don Rooney committed suicide in April after an unnamed woman told the diocese Rooney had sexually abused her when she was a child. After learning about the woman’s allegations, Scolaro, who now lives in San Francisco, decided to tell the diocese her story. She says Rooney kissed and groped her when she was 11 years old in the school gymnasium at St. Patrick’s in Cleveland.

RS: I would always try to hide and always wore my coat and I remember the one time I got in trouble for not taking my coat off in church when he was saying mass on a Friday afternoon. But, I just wouldn’t do it because I didn’t, I felt safer underneath my coat for some reason.

RJ: This June, Scolaro filed a $10 million lawsuit against the diocese, St. Patrick’s and Rooney’s estate. She says when she tried telling her pastor what happened as a child she was ignored - and claims that’s still what’s happening today. Bill Denihan, who heads the Special Commission on Sexual Abuse for the Diocese of Cleveland says recent recommendations would prevent such treatment. He says the new policy includes standards for reporting and investigating allegations of sexual abuse, as well as implementing a task force to deal with sex abuse education and counseling.

Bill Denihan: That is to give children the confidence and the sense as to when they have been sexually abused, and the confidence to report it to their teacher, their parents and to the authorities and not to feel guilty about it or hold it inside themselves, and that takes special education to do.

RJ: But for Regina Scolaro, any policy that falls short of Bishop Pilla’s resignation doesn’t go far enough.

RS: I always say that, you know, Bishop Pilla does not represent God to me. I feel that people out there, who whether they’ve had children, family, friends abused or whether they haven’t, they need to say, we need to get these people out of here because they are destroying the reputation of the Catholic Church.

RJ: Diocese spokesperson Bob Tayek acknowledges that even Pilla himself has said that if it would serve the church better, he would consider stepping down.

Bob Tayek: Bishop Pilla has said, at a point where he feels that his presence would no longer be valuable in, in the process, in the process of rectifying these problems then he might, you know, that would be something he would consider.

RJ: But Tayek maintains that while there may be other people that feel the way Scolaro does, most Catholics in northeast Ohio are completely supportive of the Bishop. In fact, one example of someone who believes the Bishop has handled the sex abuse scandal just fine is a victim herself. Stacie Webb’s abuser, former priest Martin Louis, is in prison for sexually molesting and raping Webb as a young child. This March, Bishop Pilla even washed Webb’s feet as a symbolic gesture.

Stacie Webb: That was a great experience. I felt very blessed to meet him and to just be really honest and real with the areas that I felt like I could help with the church, make positive changes.

RJ: Webb is the only victim on the 22-member panel that drafted the policy parishes are now considering. If adopted, the plan would replace current sex-abuse guidelines that the diocese has used for the last ten years. Bob Tayek says that from August 26th to September 5th, the diocese will hold district meetings that will include reactions to the proposed plan from all of its 235 parishes.

BT: Each parish will have as many as four to six people who will present an individual parish’s response, concerns, etc. as it relates to this proposed policy. There will be a legal review of the special task force recommendations, an ecumenical review, in other words, church law review, to determine the appropriateness of the policy and its reasonable implementation.

RJ: Tayek says the process will also have to include approval from the U.S. Conference of Bishops and the Vatican. He says while there’s no timeline for those decisions, the diocese hopes for some sort of movement by the end of the year. In Cleveland, Renita Jablonski, 90.3.

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