Crimes by clergy should be prosecuted

It is clear to us that although knowledge of “credible” accusations of sexual abuse within the Youngstown Catholic Diocese existed for decades, church leaders decided among themselves that it would be preferable to handle these issues in-house rather than calling for outside criminal investigations. They chose to settle many of the cases quietly, some with the exchange of cash. In fact, since 1943, there have been settlements totalling $500,000 paid to victims of sexual abuse.

Youngstown Diocese Bishop George Murry released the list in recent weeks of 31 clergy whom he said have been credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors. About 12 of those men now are deceased.

This practice of settling claims without criminal prosecution apparently was common not just in our diocese, but in other Catholic dioceses nationwide.

Now the diocese is making an attempt to come clean by releasing the names of the accused clergy who have been named in credible accusations since this diocese was created in 1943. In some cases where the alleged abusers are not deceased, the statute of limitations has expired, meaning these men probably never will face judgment in a court of law.

Murry said he is not aware of any pending criminal charges relating to the sexual abuse. He attempted to justify the church’s decision not to seek prosecution by saying the victims did not want to be made public.

“There are people who have reported abuse which was found credible,” Murry said, but added when they were asked if they wanted to prosecute, “they said ‘No,’ often wary of their name going out in public. Some have said to me they just want the person out of ministry and not near the children.”

We suspect that embarrassment and a desire by victims of sex crimes to remain anonymous is frequently a challenge with which police and prosecutors deal. Yet, they manage to do their jobs and ensure that each credible accusation is properly investigated and fully prosecuted. When asked about any investigations, Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins told us, to his knowledge, his office has not been involved in any of these cases.

That’s a shame.

Despite the delay, we now call on the Youngstown Diocese to turn over all the information they have on these cases and these settlements to the appropriate county prosecutors. And we call on the local prosecutors to take these accusations seriously and devote the pertinent amount of resources to investigating.

Not only is this the only option remaining for the victims of these crimes who still may be hoping for justice, but it is the right thing to do.