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Police admit role in abuse cover-up



Published: Mon, August 1, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Four former officers speak of an unwritten rule against arresting priests.

TOLEDO (AP) -- During the last several decades, police officers and other government officials have helped the Catholic Diocese of Toledo cover up allegations of sexual abuse by priests, a three-month investigation by The Blade shows.

Interviews with former officers and a review of court and diocese records show that at least five times since the 1950s, police have refused to investigate or arrest priests suspected of molesting children, the Blade reported Sunday. In some cases that did result in charges, authorities blocked the release of files to the public.

"You can't separate police from the issue," said Catherine Hoolahan, a Toledo lawyer representing victims of abuse. "Too many times, they could have arrested priests and sent a message to the church."

Four former officers say Police Chief Anthony Bosch, a Catholic who headed the Toledo department from 1956 to 1970, established an unwritten rule that priests could not be arrested.

"You would have been fired," said Gene Fodor, who served on the force between 1960 and 1981.

Complaints

Fodor said several members of St. Stephen's Church in east Toledo complained to him in 1960 about a priest who they suspected was molesting altar boys at a cottage in western Lucas County.

Fodor and other officers who heard the complaints never filed a report. Instead, police allowed the priest to go to Canada. He eventually returned to the United States to serve a parish in Louisiana, where he died in 1978.

In another case, a Toledo priest whom police suspected of sexually abusing a boy in his parish was transferred to another church in Mansfield, the Blade reported.

The Rev. Robert Lamantia, who oversaw the transfer, said diocesan officials knew the police department would not investigate.

"It doesn't look good today, but it wasn't part of our policy that this was considered to be a crime against youth and it had to be handled by police," the Rev. Mr. Lamantia said.

Victims say this kind of treatment left them feeling betrayed by both church leaders and law enforcement officials.

"Now that the church has been dealt with, it's time to deal with the agencies and the people who let it go on in the communities," said George Keller, who says he was abused by a priest whose case was covered up in Bellevue, Ohio, which is part of the diocese.

Cover-up scheme

After Bosch left the Toledo department, the cover-ups continued, the Blade reported. Jim Richards, who worked as the diocesan spokesman from 1971 to 1995, said church leaders knew whom to call in the police department to keep cases quiet.

A retired police detective who also worked as a private investigator for the diocese said he didn't file police reports about suspected priest abuse.

"I can tell you that there was always somebody they could go to in the police department," Sgt. John Connors said. "And I can tell you that, at one time, I was that man."

Two nuns complained to Connors in 1985 about a priest having parties with children. When Connors searched the priest's home, he found a nude picture of a 16-year-old boy.

Connors said he tracked down the victim and confirmed he had been abused, but the priest was sent to a treatment center instead of being prosecuted.

Challenging the norm

No priest was arrested for sexual abuse until 1984, when a police officer found a priest in a mall restroom stall, receiving oral sex from a teenager, the Blade reported.

"I was not going to follow the department policy -- not this time," said Officer Bill Gray, who's now retired. After the arrest, Gray said he got harassing phone calls from his fellow officers.

After the priest was sentenced, the judge and prosecutors agreed to seal his record. Gray still maintains his own files, because he suspected the case might be hidden.

The diocese refuses to discuss its relationship with law enforcement in the past, saying to talk about it now would only hurt the victims.

"Many [victims] who have responded have spoken of their anguish at each republication of previously published stories about their experiences and those of other survivors, indicating that such repeated accounts actually impede their healing by reopening old wounds," Bishop Leonard Blair said in a prepared statement.

Law enforcement officials say priests suspected of crimes no longer receive special treatment.




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