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Child sexual abuse survivors release names, urge Ohio to investigate Catholic dioceses

49 accused clergy members named; many have ties to Northeast Ohio
Child sexual abuse survivors urge Ohio to investigate Catholic dioceses
Posted at 5:45 PM, Aug 16, 2023

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Advocates against child sex abuse have filed a letter to the Ohio attorney general, asking the state to hold accused predators in the Catholic church accountable.

"We are asking Attorney General Yost to simply step up and get on the train of accountability and justice for victims," said Claudia Vercellotti with the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).

Ohioans for Child Protection SNAP have made a formal request to Attorney General Dave Yost. They are asking him to conduct a statewide investigation of the history and scope of child sexual abuse and its covering up by the state's Catholic dioceses.

Vercellotti brought forward reports from other states, where their attorneys general listed substantiated allegations against individuals in the Catholic church. Many had worked in Ohio.

"Information developed on 49 credibly-accused clerics from other attorneys general's reports with ties to Ohio," she said. "It makes you wonder what would Attorney General Yost uncover if he merely investigated?"

The Catholic Conference of Ohio declined to answer if they would support this type of investigation. But in a statement, a spokesperson said that the church does background checks and has ongoing safe environment training for employees and volunteers.

Yost also gave a statement, saying that he encourages victims to come forward, but this is handled at the local level.

“Unlike some other states, Ohio does not grant the attorney general’s office the legal authority to investigate matters like this," he said. "The General Assembly has the power to change the law, but at present, SNAP’s concerns should be addressed to local prosecutors."

Case Western Reserve University law professor Jonathan Entin confirmed that Yost doesn’t have the authority.

"Although the attorney general is the chief legal officer for the state, criminal prosecution is vested in county prosecutors," Entin said.

Why is that?

"The concern is you don't want to give the attorney general too much power," Entin said.

A rogue local prosecutor is a local problem — but a rogue attorney general can cause harm to the entire state, he said.

"Some states think that the potential risk of an abusive attorney general outweighs whatever benefit there might be from having a single statewide coordinated prosecution process," Entin explained.

Vercellotti and other advocates say there are still ways Yost can investigate.

"[The AG and his team] are able to investigate charitable organizations within our state," Rebecca Surendorff said. "If you go to our Attorney General's website, they do indicate that they give oversight to charitable organizations, and the Catholic church is also a charitable organization."

Unfortunately, this wouldn't exactly help their cause, CWRU law professor Michael Benza said.

"That type of investigation would go towards their charitable status," Benza said.

The advocates dropped off the formal letter to the AG’s office – hoping for him to get more involved.

"It takes seconds to abuse a child and a lifetime to overcome it," Vercellotti said.

Who are the accused?

The News 5 Investigators took a deeper look into those 49 names released Wednesday. Almost a dozen people have Cleveland connections, with more than half named in the Illinois Attorney General's report.

Child sex abuse survivor group releases names of 49 accused Catholic clergy members

Our research shows Thomas Burg was ordained in 1964 and worked at St. Ignatius in the 1960s and 70s, and at St. Eds in Cleveland in the 70s until 1980.

In 1982, Burg then worked in Chicago. His name is listed in the substantiated allegations of child sexual abuse list from the Cleveland diocese and in the Illinois AG’s report.

The Illinois report also shows Gary Berthiaume was convicted of sexually abusing a child in Michigan and removed from service by the Cleveland diocese in 2002, but since that time, the Illinois report showed he worked in several places there from 1988-2002.

Four Jesuit priests — Ignatius Burrill, Thomas Gannon, Gerald Garvey and Thomas Powers — who had all worked at St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland, are on the list of Midwest Jesuits with established allegations of sexual abuse, and they worked in numerous places in Illinois, according to that state's AG.

“Ohio should be a safe place to raise a child, not a legal haven for child sexual abusers, traffickers and institutions which enable them,” said Teresa Dinwiddie-Herrmann during Wednesday's presentation in Columbus. She is co-chair of Ohioans for Child Protection.

In the Baltimore and Maryland AG reports, J. Glenn Murray ordained in 1979, is listed, and published reports confirm he worked in Cleveland. Eugene Morgan is also listed, and published reports show he worked in Canton at Central Catholic High School.

Meanwhile, three names showed up in the Pennsylvania Attorney General's report, including Giles Nealen in Waynesburg, Ohio and Robert Castelucci in Columbiana County, Ohio, who are also listed in the Youngstown diocese list of accused priests. The third name is Henry Marcinek. Published reports showed he took a boy from Pennsylvania to Sea World and Geauga Lake, where he's accused of abuse.

We did reach out to the Catholic Conference of Ohio for an interview. It sent a statement instead, stating: “Every diocese in Ohio diligently maintains safe environments for all children and adults. The Catholic Church conducts background checks and on-going safe environment training for employees and volunteers."

Follow WEWS statehouse reporter Morgan Trau on Twitter and Facebook.