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Growing Allegations Plague Catholic Church

Tuesday, April 2, 2002 at 1:25 PM

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Another lawsuit accusing the Catholic Church of pedophilia has been filed, this time in Toledo. A suburban Columbus woman says she was a victim of abuse for 10 years beginning in 1964. This filing is the latest in a growing list of allegations against the Catholic Church. 90.3 WCPN's Renita Jablonski traveled to Slavic Village and found that regardless of denomination, people are expressing emotions about the issue that are very strong - and very mixed.

Sound Bites: I believe probably a lot of it did happen. But I don’t know if it all happened.

I think it’s long overdue, that the Catholic Church is finally waking up and realizing the problem that they’ve got on their hands.

It didn’t affect us in our religion at all, you know, I’m sure they’re going to correct it, I hope. And we make our donations, we’ve been making them for years and years and we believe in the Catholic Church.

Renita Jablonski: Not a single empty booth in the Red Chimney Restaurant during Monday afternoon’s lunch rush. The restaurant has been a fixture in the heart of Cleveland’s Slavic Village neighborhood for more than 20 years - it’s cozy, downhome atmosphere drawing patrons from all over the Greater Cleveland area. And almost as diverse as the menu, so are the reactions when any mention is made about the scandal plaguing the Catholic Church.

Sound Bites: I think they should all go to jail.

RJ: Cleveland Bishop Anthony Pilla has heard many of these opinions. That’s why he’s named former Cleveland Safety Director Bill Denihan to head a commission to review the Diocese of Cleveland’s policies and procedures regarding cases of sexual abuse in the church. Being Catholic himself, Denihan says it makes his latest assignment even more challenging.

Bill Denihan: I feel bad in terms of victims, but I feel good that there, at least within the hierarchy of the Catholic Community that there are those that are speaking out and there are those that are taking appropriate measures and steps to question and to do a thorough evaluation.

RJ: Two blocks away from the Red Chimney Restaurant, nearly 2,000 people attended Easter services at St. Stanislaus Church this weekend. Father Michael Surufka is an associate pastor at St. Stans. He says sometimes it was difficult concentrating on preparations for the Easter Holiday during Holy Week with stories about the sex abuse charges against the church topping the news. He says he’s never experienced so many different emotions about an issue before the church until now.

Michael Surufka: I feel hurt by what other people are doing and sort of like there’s guilt by association almost, you know, these are our own guys in a sense, you know, brother priests. Even if you don’t know them, they’re still ours. And of course, hurt and angry for the victims, the suffering that they’re going through, and can’t even imagine what that could be like for them.

RJ: And, when it comes down to it, Surufka says he can’t help but feel that the Catholic Church is being singled out.

MS: There are other churches, and other ministers, and other organizations, and all of them have some kind of participation in sin you know, and injustice, and even with this exact issue. So why all of the attention on Catholic priests and the Catholic hierarchy? And that gets me, I think, even more upset.

RJ: Denihan says he too shares similar views on the media coverage of the issue and its affect on the Catholic Church, and he says he also recognizes that although allegations of sex crimes in the Catholic Church are nothing new, there are reasons why they’ve never rocked the church to this extent.

BD: Victims are now allowing themselves to be public, which is extraordinary for anyone to do. And the second thing is, this then drives perpetrators to become more public than they have in the past and there have been some perpetrators who have openly exposed themselves. I think those two dynamics help feed into the media awareness.

RJ: Denihan says he hopes to name the rest of the members who will sit on the Cleveland Diocese policy review panel by the end of this week and plans to have a report completed within six weeks. Meanwhile the Cuyahoga County prosecutor’s office does not yet want to comment on the possibility of pursuing legal action against Cleveland’s diocese, similar to the move the Hamilton County prosecutor made against the Archdiocese of Cincinnati last week, launching an investigation to see if there have been unreported sex crimes committed by priests or other church employees. A representative for County prosecutor Bill Mason says it’s too early to say whether or not Mason will follow suit. In Cleveland, Renita Jablonski, 90.3 WCPN News.

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