‘Wave’ of local victims may come forward
Diocese of Steubenville will publish names of abusers in October
The Diocese of Steubenville, which includes several parishes in Washington County, announced Wednesday it will publish the names of priests in the diocese against whom credible allegations of sex abuse have been made and who have been removed from active ministry.
Diocese Communications director Dino Orsatti said Wednesday the list, which is expected to include between 12 and 20 names, will appear on the diocese website around the end of October.
Both Orsatti and an advocate for victims expect that publication of the names is likely to bring a wave of victims forward, as has happened in other locations where the names of accused priests have been made public.
Judy Block Jones, Midwest regional leader for SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), said Wednesday the Diocese of Steubenville announcement is “a welcome step” but further measures are needed.
Jones, who now lives in the St. Louis area but grew up in southeast Ohio, said she has heard from several people who have stories of abuse in Washington, Belmont and Noble counties but have not come forward publicly with accusations.
“It’s very quiet in that area, but I know about these things personally because the victims have contacted me directly,” she said. “These are small parishes, they’re afraid to come forward, and a lot of times they blame themselves even though they were just kids.”
Jones said the experience of seeing others come forward and seeing public acknowledgment by the Catholic church can have a cathartic effect on victims, even those who have kept the abuse secret for a long time. Father Robert A. Brown, a priest at St. Sylvester’s Parish in Woodsfield from 1950 to 1984, who died in 1991, was accused of molesting several boys. The assignment record shows that the church acknowledged credible allegations of three boys against him, 15 years after he died.
The Steubenville Diocese statement does not specify whether the names of priests who no longer are living will be published, but the Buffalo Diocese when it published a list of accused priests did not publish the names of those no longer alive, saying they were unable to defend themselves against their accusers, Jones said. Orsatti said the diocese would likely publish those names, but the decision had not been made as of Wednesay.
Jones said it’s important to know those names because many of their potential accusers have never come forward. “I have been contacted by men in their 80s, who say they were abused in the 1940s,” she said. “Even if the priest is dead, it helps the victims know they are not alone.”
Orsatti said the church is doing this in the interest of transparency and regaining the trust of Catholics.
“It’s definitely on the bishop’s mind,” he said, referring to Bishop Jeffery Monforton. “He wants to get the trust back in the church. So much has been lost in different investigations over the years, and we want to make sure we are as open as possible.”
Orsatti said the names also will be forwarded to county prosecutors where the allegations have been made in case they want to investigate the priests for criminal violations. In Belmont County, retired Msgr. Mark Froehlich, 75, is under investigation by the sheriff’s office on allegations dating back at least two decades that he sexually abused a minor. Froehlich has denied the allegations, but the diocese has deemed the accusations credible and Froelich has been relieved of all active ministerial duties.
Sgt. Ryan Allar, chief of investigations for the Belmont County Sheriff’s Office, said Thursday the office has been investigating Froehlich since February. “We are very close to presenting charges to the county prosecutor,” he said. The diocese, he said, has been cooperating with the investigation from the start.
Allar encouraged any other victims to come forward, even if on a confidential basis. The investigator, Detective Sgt. Doug Cruse, can be contacted at 740-695-7933 extension 148.
Jones said many people abused in the distant past are doubly reluctant to come forward because of the statute of limitations, which in Ohio is 12 years after the victim reaches the age of majority. “That needs to change,” she said.
Jones also said she would urge the attorney general of Ohio to convene a grand jury similar to the one that led to the Pennsylvania exposure of abuse by priests.
Orsatti said he expects more allegations to come forward after the list of names is published.
“It’s reality,” he said. “There’s a concern if it involves legal expenses, but this is what we want, it’s the reason we are releasing these names. We take these allegations very seriously, and if we can help people come forward and help them, that’s what we want, to give them counseling and help.”
The Steubenville Diocese has about 34,000 parishioners in 13 Ohio counties, an area covering 5,900 square miles from Carrollton to Ironton.
Victims who wish to get information can contact SNAP through its website, snapnetwork.org.