Cincinnati archdiocese spokesman apologizes for remarks in newspaper’s sex abuse investigation

An Archdiocese of Cincinnati spokesman has apologized for “very unfortunate language” he used to explain the local church’s decision to not release the names of dead priests accused of sexual abuse for the first time.

In a report Sunday revealing child sex abuse allegations against seven dead, unnamed priests over fiscal year 2018, spokesman Mike Schafer said the deceased clergy could not defend themselves against the allegations and would not be publicly identified because the Cincinnati archdiocese would not "go trash the person's reputation in the community with something that can't be proven."

The comments, which ran Sunday in the Dayton Daily News, Springfield News-Sun and Journal-News of Butler County print and online editions, were criticized by local abuse survivors.

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“I get the fact that a dead priest cannot defend himself, but characterizing the allegation with the verb form of the word ‘trash’ is disrespectful to the victim making the allegation, and says to the wider community, and indeed the Catholic community, that allegations of this nature are unworthy of your attention and respect,” said Dan Frondorf, a sexual abuse survivor, in a letter.

Schafer personally called Frondorf before releasing a press statement, which said, “In explaining the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s approach regarding deceased clergy who are accused for the first time of sexual abuse, I used very unfortunate language by saying, in part, that we would not ‘trash’ the reputation of a person who has no ability to defend himself. I deeply regret this word choice because it could be read as discounting the ongoing pain experienced by people who have suffered reprehensible violations of their human dignity. Nothing could be further from my intention.”

“The archdiocese, under the leadership of Archbishop Dennis Schnurr, is committed to the protection of any person, child or adult, involved with any of our various ministries and to the pastoral care of any victim of past abuse. I apologize to anyone whom I inadvertently offended with my words,” Schafer said.

Frondorf, who leads the Cincinnati and Dayton chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, told the newspaper he did not think the spokesman was intentionally demeaning, but he said not publicly naming the priests “robs the survivor of the opportunity for some validation.”

“When somebody reads the name of the perpetrator priest in the paper, that means a lot,” Frondorf said. “If you take away that ability for someone to know they weren’t the only one, it sets back that process. And that’s what the church has never understood.”

The archdiocese has not yet said if the dead priests accused in fiscal year 2018 were subject to previous allegations. The newspaper also reported that in fiscal year 2017, new allegations of sexual abuse of a minor were made against three unnamed priests, all of whom are dead and two of whom were previously accused. Schafer said all cases were referred to local civil authorities.

If a priest is accused while alive, the archdiocese makes the accusation known to the public. Schafer said there are no active cases of clerical abuse of minors anywhere in the archdiocese, which includes Dayton, Springfield, Hamilton and Middletown.

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