A press release issued by the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown dealing with allegations of past sexual abuse of minors involving five priests of the diocese raises more questions than it answers and could result in the type of public outcry that is being heard in other parts of the country.
Indeed, the release, which contains comments from Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, has prompted Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul Gains to send a letter to the diocese seeking details of any sexual abuse by priests in his jurisdiction. Gains is scheduled to meet with church officials this week. The bishop must be aware of the growing public disenchantment with the American Catholic Church's hierarchy and of the demands for full public disclosure of the allegations.
Last week, The Vindicator submitted a list of detailed questions to the bishop, but rather than sitting down with a reporter, he chose to have the Chancery Office issue a press release that contained this paragraph: "Following the practice adopted by some other dioceses, with respect for the right to privacy of all involved, and on the advice of legal counsel, the Diocese of Youngstown will not release the names of the priests or victims involved in these situations to the media. An individual victim has the right and ability to report the matter if he or she chooses to do so."
While Bishop Tobin insisted that he and his staff are "doing our very best to address these difficult situations we have inherited from the past," the fact remains that there are many unanswered questions that will not go away. The press release noted that after extensive review of files for active and retired clergy, and from other information presented, the diocese has become aware of "new allegations of past sexual abuse of minors involving five priests of the Diocese." The most recent allegation of abuse occurred 19 years ago.
But as Gains noted in an interview with The Vindicator, the questions posed by the newspaper in its letter to the bishop are valid and require a response. It must be pointed out that the newspaper did not ask for the identities of the alleged victims, but it did request the names of the suspended priests, their work assignments at the time of their suspension and any current duties.
The newspaper also asked the following: "Are these priests now involved in ministries or any church work? Does that bring them into contact with children? Are they involved in any other activity that brings them into contact with children?"
The purpose of the inquiry isn't to violate the privacy of the clergy, nor is it designed to put the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown on the defensive. Rather, it is an attempt to give the public as much accurate information as possible so that Catholics, in particular, will rest assured that full disclosure is the rule rather than the exception.