CLEVELAND — Decades-old abuse allegations against the Catholic Church came to the forefront Tuesday. A national organization is lending its support to people who claim they endured severe abuse when they were children at the former Parmadale home for children in Parma.
Dr. Robert Hoatson and Carolyn Mason held a news conference Tuesday talking about her time at Parmadale in the 1960s. You might remember Carolyn from the News 5 investigation that broke the news of the claims of physical abuse against some nuns at Parmadale.
Hoatson founded Road to Recovery, Inc. in New Jersey. It’s a non-profit group that’s been helping abuse victims with their claims against the Catholic Church.
“And the Church claims to be, reportedly, the most moral institution in the world and it acts the most immoral when it comes to this issue,” said Hoatson.
CALLS TO RELEASE ALL CLEVELAND DIOCESE RECORDS
Hoatson called on the Cleveland Catholic Dioceses to release all of the files it has against all priests, nuns, and laypersons.
News 5 contacted the Sisters of Charity and the Diocese asking for their sides of the story.
A statement from the Sisters of Charity said, in part, “All aspects of the process are confidential…and the process is not complete.” Their full statement is at the end of this story.
The Diocese responded Tuesday evening after our story aired, stating that the diocese reported one of the victims' allegations to the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor, Cuyahoga County Children & Family Services, and to the diocese’s Review Board, which is investigating the allegation. You can also read the Diocese's full statement at the end of this story.
Meanwhile, News 5 Investigators have new information about the child abuse claims. Since that story aired, there’s been an effort to give counseling to former kids of the Parmadale home for children. There’s also been an investigation launched and even talk of restitution.
“To read these, it’s very emotional,” said Debbie Demming, who was part of our initial investigation. She talked to us about the messages she received from others who were also at Parmadale as children in the 1960s.
PEOPLE REACHING OUT AFTER STORY AIRS
“Hello, Debbie. I was brought to tears,” reads a message that Demming received. “I remember the beatings all too well."
Another person wrote, “I and many of my friends were severely beaten for little to no reason."
A different person said, “Lots of tears seeing others come forward has broken my heart.”
Demming did come forward for the first time publicly with News 5 Investigators last month about claims of severe emotional and physical abuse handed out by nuns at Parmadale. She specifically focused on Sister Myra Wasikowski, and said the nun stripped her naked and beat her, left scars on her head, and punished her in disgusting ways.
“If you didn’t eat your food or you got sick at the dining table, she would make you eat your vomit,” said Demming during our first report.
Carolyn Mason shared similar stories of abuse, and she, too, heard from people who were once kids at Parmadale.
“I’m not only one,” Mason told us. “I think I counted about 25 [people who got in touch] so far on Sister Myra alone.”
OFFERS OF COUNSELING, TALKS OF RESTITUTION
Since our story ran, both Mason and Demming told us they’ve been in contact with the Sisters of Charity. That group has offered to provide counseling free of charge and talked about the process of receiving compensation.
“Did you ever bring up restitution?” we asked Demming.
“I did not. They brought it up first,” she answered.
“They said, 'Put a number on it,'” said Mason. “What number to ask for for four years of a kid’s life? And then the ongoing issues from each year going back?” she added while tearing up.
“How do you say, ‘Okay, $2 million is going to take this away.’ That probably isn’t going to happen,” Demming told us.
CONCERNS ABOUT THE INVESTIGATOR HIRED
The women said the Sisters of Charity assembled a review board for their claims and hired an investigator. He is an employee of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office who got special permission to do the private, outside investigation. The women told us they’re concerned about that because the AG’s Office is supposed to hold organizations accountable and not have one of its own employees working for the organizations in question. We asked the AG’s Office about that. It said, “no comment.”
CLAIMS OF CRITICISM FOR COMING FORWARD
The women also said they were told by the Sisters of Charity and others that they shouldn’t have gone public with the abuse claims.
“The one lady [from Sisters of Charity] said I should have never went to the news,” said Mason.
“Would you be where you are now had you not spoken out publicly with News 5?” we asked.
“Probably not. Probably not. We would be back to square one where we’ve always been,” replied Demming.
Now that their stories are out, they want nuns to speak up.
“I’m sure there are still some nuns out there that were at Parmadale, that are alive and are aware of what took place there,” said Demming.
They want more people who were kids at Parmadale to come forward publicly.
“You can close that door to it,” said Mason. “End that part of your life so it doesn’t haunt you.”
They are encouraging people like the ones who reached out to Demming to speak out publicly as well.
“Sister Myra was so evil,” she read from her messages.
“She had one girl put out cigarettes on my arm,” wrote another.
“(We were) not only threatened but abused,” Demming read aloud. “And the aftershock continues.”
Here is the full statement from the Sisters of Charity:
“The investigator retained by the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine has experience with these sensitive situations and was recommended by the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland. We hired the investigator after learning of one individual’s allegations of abuse while receiving care at the former Parmadale Children’s Village of St. Vincent de Paul.
The investigator is receiving our full cooperation and is operating completely independently in investigating this matter.
Protecting the most vulnerable is central to our healing ministry.Harming individuals, especially children, goes against every value we stand for. If the allegations regarding the former Parmadale facility are true, we will take every step possible to make sure this does not happen again. The Catholic Diocese of Cleveland has extensive policies, training, education, compliance and other related matters for the protection of children.
Given that this remains an active investigation, we will have no other comment at this time.”
Below is the full statement from the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland:
The Catholic Diocese of Cleveland takes very seriously Ms. Mason’s allegations of sexual abuse by an unidentified priest at Parmadale in the 1960’s. The diocese reported the allegation to the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor, Cuyahoga County Children & Family Services, and to the diocese’s Review Board, which is investigating the allegation.
The diocese’s dedication to the protection of children is embodied in its Policy for the Safety of Children in Matters of Sexual Abuse and demonstrated through its outreach, abuse prevention training, screening, reporting of allegations to civil authorities, and its independent Review Board charged with investigating allegations. The diocese’s policy and practices have been audited by an independent auditor each year since 2004, and every year the auditors have found the diocese compliant with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.
In keeping with the its commitment to sharing appropriate information with the public, the diocese has published on its website a list of the names of diocesan clerics who have been removed from ministry as a result of child sexual abuse or against whom have been made a substantiated allegation of child sexual abuse.
The diocese continues to pray for Ms. Mason and for anyone who has experienced or been affected by child abuse. Anyone who suspects that any cleric has committed child abuse should report their suspicions to law enforcement and to the diocesan confidential response line by phone at 216-334-2999 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.