Vatican elevated abusive Ohio priest
Warnings didn't deter rise through Catholic
By REESE DUNKLIN / The Dallas Morning News
Saturday, August 30, 2003
© 2003, The Dallas Morning News
The Vatican promoted a U.S. priest through its international
diplomatic corps despite high-level warnings in the 1990s
that he had sexually abused a girl, according to interviews
The case is believed to be the first in which the Vatican
has been found harboring an abuser in its ranks. In a message
to American Catholic leaders during last year's abuse crisis,
Pope John Paul II said: "There is no place in the priesthood
or religious life for those who would harm the young."
Alerts about Monsignor Daniel Pater went to the Vatican from
his home Archdiocese of Cincinnati and a former official at
an elite seminary in Rome. That official told The Dallas Morning
News that nothing happened after he twice spoke with Bishop
James M. Harvey, a friend who was a longtime Vatican state
department executive and now heads the pope's personal staff.
Bishop Harvey acknowledged Friday that he had known "there'd
been some problems" with the American priest but said
that he hadn't known details and was not in a position to
affect the priest's career.
"I presumed everything was OK, that there wasn't anything
to it or the accusations were false," the bishop said
in a telephone interview from Rome. "I just presumed
that when he continued, that everything was OK."
In fact, a lawsuit against Monsignor Pater had ended with
a confidential payment to his accuser in 1995 and the priest's
stay in a treatment center. Monsignor Pater said in a brief
interview Friday that he had recently quit his Vatican job
and was "very sorry for what happened."
At the time of his resignation, he was the Vatican's No.
2 diplomat in India. He is now visiting family in the Archdiocese
of Cincinnati, where he abused a young parishioner before
joining the Vatican's foreign service in the early 1980s.
Archdiocesan spokeswoman Tricia Hempel said Monsignor Pater
acknowledged the abuse when first confronted about a decade
ago. "The Vatican knew the status of the case,"
Ms. Hempel said Monsignor Pater, 50, remains a priest in
good standing, even though U.S. bishops passed a one-strike-and-you're-out
policy last year in Dallas. His eligibility for ministry will
be decided later this year by a local review board and Archbishop
Daniel Pilarczyk, she said.
Bishop Harvey said that he had never spoken about Monsignor
Pater with the pope, who is on vacation outside his residence,
and that he might not have the opportunity to talk with him
about the situation in the future.
"It's not like we chitchat a lot or he asks me how things
are going in the United States," said the bishop, who
hails from Milwaukee but has worked in Rome for about 20 years.
"Even though I see the pope, it's not like he would ask
me about this, nor would I ... discuss someone else who works
for the Vatican if I wasn't asked."
Bishop Harvey has been head of the papal household for five
years. In elevating him to that post and ordaining him a bishop
in 1998, the pope referred to him as "dear Monsignor
James Harvey ... for many years my faithful collaborator."
The bishop is one of the most powerful Americans at the Vatican
and one of the few people of any nationality with daily access
to the pope. He handles requests for meetings with the pope,
arranges his appearances, accompanies him in public and escorts
high-level visitors through the Vatican.
Those guests have included President Bush, who told the pope
last year that he was concerned about the church's standing
in light of the abuse scandal. Boston Cardinal Bernard Law,
whose protection of abusive priests became worldwide news,
stayed in Bishop Harvey's residence in December before resigning.
The bishop said Friday that Monsignor Pater is the first
Vatican employee he knows of to be credibly accused of abuse.
The Rev. Thomas Doyle, a military chaplain in Germany who
formerly worked in the Vatican's U.S. embassy, said he believes
this is merely the first such case to become public.
He called the situation "profound and shattering, because
this connects several dots: A. They did know. B. They kept
it covered. C. They didn't act on their own requirements for
the United States. In other words, they violated their own
code of ethics, their own procedures."
Father Doyle, who wrote a report nearly 20 years ago warning
U.S. bishops that a massive abuse crisis was brewing, said
Friday that Bishop Harvey "is up at the top of the heap.
They could have easily said, 'This is scandalous.' They took
a major risk that this would be discovered."
Bishop Harvey said that Monsignor Pater's resignation was
appropriate "just to avoid any kind of hint of scandal.
You want your officers beyond reproach."
The bishop said the priest was not a particularly public
"He's really functioning as a secretary in a closed
environment," he said. "It's not that he'd be posing
Chapels in embassies
Vatican embassies typically have chapels at which cleric-diplomats
celebrate Mass. Workers at the embassy in the Indian capital
of New Delhi, where Monsignor Pater worked, said their chapel
is open to the public.
Ms. Hempel, the Cincinnati Archdiocese spokeswoman, said his
supervisors overseas "would certainly know" that
he should not work with children.
The man who alerted Bishop Harvey about the Pater case is
the Rev. Lawrence Breslin, pastor of the Cincinnati Archdiocese
church where the abuse had taken place. He formerly was a
top official of the Pontifical North American College, a seminary
in Rome to which U.S. bishops send some of their most promising
Monsignor Breslin said he first told his friend about the
matter in 1995. Bishop Harvey, he said, responded that higher-ranking
officials in the Vatican state department knew the priest
"had some problems in the states, and it'd pass over."
"I told this man, 'It's not going to pass over,' "
Monsignor Breslin said.
He recalled that during their second conversation, in 1999,
Bishop Harvey said one restriction had been placed on Monsignor
Pater because of the abuse: He would never be promoted to
an ambassador post.
"I wasn't surprised, but I think they should have sidelined
him," said Monsignor Breslin, who has publicly criticized
his own archbishop's handling of other abuse cases in the
Cincinnati area. "He'd almost have to murder somebody.
"That's the Vatican," he added. "It's hard
to get fired over there."
Bishop Harvey said he did not remember many details of his
talks with Monsignor Breslin.
In 1979, Monsignor Pater was a newly ordained priest starting
his first job at St. Charles Borromeo parish in Kettering,
Ohio, a Dayton suburb.
There, he met a 13-year-old girl, who is now a woman in her
mid-30s still coping with what happened in her childhood and
frustrated with the way the church hierarchy has dealt with
the priest she once revered.
Monsignor Pater, she said, sometimes saw her in the neighborhood
and offered an occasional glass of lemonade or ride home.
Then, in 1980, a family tragedy brought him more directly
into her life.
One of her older brothers was killed when he rode his bicycle
through a stop sign and was struck by a car. Several clergy
members stepped in to console the family, but it was Monsignor
Pater, she said, who focused on her.
Counseling sessions, the woman said, opened the door to hugging,
kissing, playful wrestling and finally, when she was 14, molestation
at the parish rectory, at the archdiocese's Alter High
School and in a parked car. Sometimes, she said, the encounters
happened after he gave her wine at dinner.
Monsignor Pater told her not to reveal what was happening,
the woman said, and assured her that his sexual advances were
proper in the eyes of the Catholic Church.
The woman's mother said that at the time she had few reasons
to be suspicious of the priest, who frequented the family's
house and once told her husband, "I feel like you're
"He really worked his way in," the mother said.
"It was an honor to have a friend who's a priest. We
knew he was slated for bigger and bigger things. My husband
and I said, 'We might be visiting the Vatican later.' "
In 1982, Monsignor Pater embarked on his career in the Vatican.
He joined a small number of Americans invited into the Pontifical
Ecclesiastical Academy in Rome, which has trained the Vatican's
diplomatic corps and has produced five popes.
Back home on a visit, he wrote this note, dated Oct. 1, 1982,
in the girl's high school yearbook:
"My best and closest friend during my time at Saint
Charles. I hope that this love and understanding lasts into
While in Vatican City, Monsignor Pater took an interest in
church archaeological sites and architecture. He was so knowledgeable
that he was picked to give National Geographic a tour of the
In the magazine's 1985 article, Monsignor Pater was asked
about his fellow diplomatic students: "They are people
I like. I can live among them without keeping up my defenses."
On his trips back to the United States, he would meet the
girl and have sex with her, she said. This continued into
the early 1990s, after she'd become a young adult and
after Monsignor Pater had begun his diplomatic service, in
Australia and then Zaire (now the Congo).
Monsignor Pater sometimes bragged about a benefit of his
Vatican job, the woman said. "He used to tell me if he
got a speeding ticket, he wouldn't have to pay because he
had diplomatic immunity, and no one could touch him,"
As Monsignor Pater moved up through the diplomatic ranks,
the woman's personal life was crashing. She said she was drinking
heavily to cope with the effects of the abuse and entered
In the fall of 1992, after years of silence, she began confiding
in the Rev. Tom Stricker, whom she had met at a school where
she was teaching. He told The News that he became convinced
that "she was telling me the truth" and urged her
to report the matter to the archdiocese, which she did. Archdiocese
officials said this was the first and only complaint they
received about Monsignor Pater.
Mr. Stricker said he later quit working for the Cincinnati
Archdiocese, in part because of its handling of the case.
The woman met with the archdiocese's priest personnel director
at the time, Ken Czillinger, who has since left the priesthood.
He, too, told The News that he found her "to be a very
From there, the woman said, she encountered resistance. In
a meeting with an archdiocesan investigative panel, she felt
humiliated and left before it was over.
"The questions they were asking me made it seem like
it wasn't his fault," she said. "I didn't feel safe
in that environment."
Words about abuse
Monsignor Pater kept his collar even though the archdiocese's
leader, Archbishop Pilarczyk, had declared earlier in 1992
that one case "of a priest sexually abusing one child
is one too many."
"Far more aggressive steps are needed to protect the
innocent, treat the perpetrator and safeguard our children,"
he said at a meeting of the National Conference of Catholic
Bishops, of which he was president. "Action is what matters
In the summer of 1993, the woman sued Monsignor Pater, archdiocesan
officials, the parish and her high school. All defendants
except Monsignor Pater were eventually dismissed.
For a brief time, the priest's career slowed. He was placed
on administrative leave, left Zaire and underwent treatment
at St. Luke Institute in Maryland, to which abusive clergymen
from around the globe have gone. It deemed him fit for ministry
and not a threat to children, the archdiocese spokeswoman
Monsignor Pater was back in Africa by 1994. In court filings,
the woman's attorneys accused him of refusing to return to
answer questions in a deposition.
His lawyers said Monsignor Pater was "out of the country
pursuant to assignment by church authorities" but was
willing to be deposed in Zaire, a country they described as
"fraught with social and political unrest."
Sanctioned by judge
A judge sanctioned Monsignor Pater for missing the deposition
and refused to accept additional statements from him. The
judge noted that the priest's departure from the country kept
the court from ordering him to appear.
The suit dragged through the following year before the sides
agreed to a confidential financial settlement. Monsignor Pater
paid the bulk, records show.
Through it all, the woman said, no one in the archdiocese
offered her an apology, which was what she wanted in the first
place: "They said it wasn't part of the lawsuit."
By 1997, Monsignor Pater had earned a promotion, becoming
second in command at the Vatican Embassy in Turkey.
Back in Ohio, the woman said she lost track of his whereabouts
until recently. While on the Internet, she discovered that
he had moved on to the Vatican Embassy in India and served,
temporarily, as the ambassador.
Monsignor Pater, reached at a family member's home outside
Cincinnati, was asked if he had resigned as a diplomat because
of the abuse case.
"It's just considering what's been going on,"
he said. "I'm very sorry for what happened. I can't do
anything about that now. I don't want to keep anybody in any
discomfort or embarrassment."
The priest said he wouldn't answer further questions, then
His victim said she had long felt that Cincinnati Archdiocese
leaders were failing to remove abusive priests.
"But I still had faith in the Vatican," the woman
said. Now "it seems like it's not happening from the
very top position down."