SNAP seeks probe into Ohio dioceses
By JUSTIN DENNIS
A group representing Catholic Church sex-abuse victims is urging state and county prosecutors to launch a grand-jury-style investigation into dioceses in Youngstown as well as the rest of Ohio – similar to Pennsylvania’s recent report that exposed hundreds of priests.
But prosecutors said it’s not that easy – without criminal allegations from abuse victims at the county level, there are no grounds for an inquiry.
Judy Jones, regional leader of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, met with reporters Tuesday afternoon outside Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s West Federal Street offices, flanked by husband Steve Spaner, who carried a poster board featuring photos of children purportedly abused by Catholic priests.
Jones said the group hasn’t reached out to the attorney general directly. SNAP workers said they have become accustomed to being ignored by authorities or diocesan administrators – and instead work through the media to garner attention. SNAP has prompted similar news conferences in Cuyahoga, Franklin, Hamilton, Jefferson and Lucas counties, each with their own Catholic diocese.
“The Pennsylvania grand jury report showed a cover-up and enabling of child-sex crimes – it was a scathing report,” Jones said Tuesday. “Pennsylvania is not just one bad state. ... The church is run the same everywhere. Each diocese is run the same.”
Attorney general spokesman Dan Tierney said Tuesday, however, Pennsylvania law is different, and there is no provision allowing for the Ohio Attorney General’s Office to impanel a grand jury on its own. County-level prosecutors must bring sex-abuse charges, based on victim accounts given to local law enforcement.
In Pennsylvania, a Cambria County grand jury reviewed allegations against Brother Stephen Baker – who also was accused of abuse during his tenure at John F. Kennedy High School in Trumbull County – and the county district attorney reached out to then-Attorney General Kathleen Kane to investigate other dioceses in the state.
Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul Gains said his office has not received any complaints from alleged victims.
“I encourage any victim of sexual abuse to contact the civil authorities where the incident allegedly occurred, so it can be investigated,” he said. “We will take it very seriously, and it will be investigated and prosecuted, if warranted.”
The Youngstown diocese is expected to identify living or dead area priests named in credible allegations of sexual abuse by early November. Monsignor John Zuraw said Tuesday the list will be continually updated as accusers come forward.