Cleveland priest probe hits 6
Number of abuse claims stun Cuyahoga
Saturday, November 23, 2002
James F. McCarty
Cleveland Plain Dealer Reporter
The first results of a six-month investigation by a Cuyahoga
County grand jury into child sex abuse in the Catholic Diocese
of Cleveland began arriving at prosecutors' offices across
the country yesterday.
Earlier this week, Prosecutor William Mason mailed out about
two dozen packets of information his staff collected from
diocesan files and interviews with nearly 800 self-described
victims of sex abuse over the past 50 years.
The files contain evidence of child sex abuse in six states
and 17 Ohio counties that Mason investigated but that are
outside his Cuyahoga County jurisdiction, he said.
Several boxes of additional files with potentially stronger
cases were hand-delivered yesterday to prosecutors in Summit
and Lake counties, where the crimes supposedly occurred. About
10 of the outside cases are strong enough to result in charges,
Mason said the sheer magnitude of child sex abuse allegations
that his investigation uncovered in the Cleveland diocese
has left him stunned and dismayed.
"As a Catholic, I can't understand it," Mason said.
"I guess it's probably a product of hundreds of years
of how the church chose to deal with it. It's a very secret
The full returns from an investigation Mason calls "unprecedented
in scope and magnitude" won't be known until Dec. 3.
That is the day when nine members of the grand jury will cast
their votes on whether to indict any of the 100 priests or
260 others connected with the diocese who have been accused
of sexually abusing children. For an indictment to happen,
seven grand jurors must vote yes.
Mason said he expects several priests will be indicted, but
he wouldn't speculate how many. He characterized about half
a dozen of the cases as "tough calls" that could
go either way, depending on the grand jury's mindset. But
most of the cases are either too old or too weak to be prosecuted,
The grand jury has heard testimony twice a week for the past
two months from victims, police and 25 assistant county prosecutors
who assisted in the investigations, Mason said.
"It's been a complete accounting" of all known
allegations of child sex abuse in the diocese, Mason said.
Mason maintained strict secrecy during the grand jury proceedings
and threatened to fire any subordinate who violated his gag
edict. Nevertheless, some names of priests and teachers have
trickled out as lawyers and family members have become aware
of the evidence presented to the grand jury.
The prosecutor's office offered the Rev. Daniel McBride a
plea bargain that would have allowed him to avoid the indictment
process, according to legal sources. But McBride turned down
McBride, retired since 1987 but serving as a senior associate
pastor at St. Barnabas parish in Northfield, is one of 15
priests in the diocese who have been suspended since April
in response to child-abuse accusations. Thirteen former and
retired priests also have been named by the diocese.
McBride has been accused of sexually abusing a teenage boy
who had traveled with the priest to Chautauqua, N.Y., to buy
a boat there, a source said.
In Summit County, Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh received
investigative files compiled on the Rev. Neil Conway and a
former priest, George Bailey. Lake County Prosecutor Charles
Coulson received a file on Jerry Bals, a former guidance counselor
at Lake Catholic High School and an ordained deacon in Eastlake,
a source said.
Conway, 65, is retired and living on a farm in Cuyahoga Falls.
He has admitted to reporters to sexually abusing at least
eight boys during the course of his 22 years as a priest.
But friends say the number of victims is much larger.
Bailey left the priesthood more than 20 years ago. But before
then, at least 10 women came forward to accuse Bailey of sexually
abusing them as grade-school students at St. Vincent School
in Akron and St. Mary's School in Bedford.
Bals, 60, who now works as a librarian, was charged in 1994
with sexually abusing at least six girls at Lake Catholic.
The charges were dropped in a plea deal that required him
to forfeit his teaching credentials.
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