Abuse survivors call on Attorney General Dave Yost to investigate Ohio Catholic dioceses

Claudia Vercellotti

By Peter Gill

Several groups that advocate for survivors of sexual abuse on Wednesday called for Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost to investigate the state’s six Catholic dioceses.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), a national nonprofit, as well as two local groups, Ohioans for Child Protection and Greater Cincinnati Voice of the Faithful, announced their demand during a news conference at the Statehouse. The groups are calling on the attorney general to investigate “the history and scope of child sexual abuse, trafficking, child sex abuse enabling and cover up” in the dioceses.

At a Statehouse news conference, Rebecca Surendorff (left) and Teresa Dinwiddie-Herrmann (center), both with Ohioans for Child Protection, and Claudia Vercellotti of SNAP speak out about child abuse in the Ohio dioceses.
At a Statehouse news conference, Rebecca Surendorff (left) and Teresa Dinwiddie-Herrmann (center), both with Ohioans for Child Protection, and Claudia Vercellotti of SNAP speak out about child abuse in the Ohio dioceses.

Teresa Dinwiddie-Herrmann, co-chair of Ohioans for Child Protection, said she is aware of credible cases of abuse in Ohio that have not been investigated.

“We know of other cases where allegations have come forward, with evidence, and there has not been a criminal investigation or for whatever reason, nothing goes beyond a criminal investigation. And what’s frightening to me is some of those are clergy, coaches and teachers,” she said.

The groups point to several recent investigations by other states’ attorney generals as precedent. They released a list of 49 Catholic priests who were named in Maryland, Illinois, and Pennsylvania investigations who were accused of sexually abusing children and who had lived, worked or otherwise had ties in Ohio.

“Begin with the 49 names that overlap from your neighboring states,” said Shaun Dougherty, president of the SNAP board who is himself a survivor of priest abuse, addressing Yost. “Your action will tell your citizens of Ohio that you are serious about protecting their children, but your inaction will tell the predators that they have a safe haven in Ohio.”

A spokesperson for Yost told The Dispatch that while he encourages victims to report individual cases of abuse to authorities, he is unable to open up a statewide investigation into the dioceses.

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

The spokesperson cited state law that requires local or federal authorities to invite the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation to launch investigations.

Statute of limitation laws, which vary by state, limit how long someone can be legally prosecuted after a crime has been committed. In Ohio, most felonies have a deadline of six years, but the deadlines for child sexual abuse is 12 years after the victim becomes an adult. Some states have eliminated the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse entirely because many survivors do not come forward until later in their lives.

State Rep. Jessica E. Miranda (D-Forest Park), who introduced a bill that would eliminate state civil and criminal statutes of limitations for child sexual abuse, said she thinks Yost should investigate.

“As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) and rape myself, I fully support a thorough investigation. … These victims and their families deserve law and order, and Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost owes that to them,” she said.

The Diocese of Columbus told The Dispatch that “we have been and will continue to be vigilant to maintain a safe environment for all children, youth, and adults.”

“We routinely self-evaluate safety protocols as well as utilize and cooperate with outside entities. The United States Conference of Bishops audits every diocese annually, which includes on-site visits every 3 years. Further, not only does the Diocese of Columbus mandate background checks and ongoing training for employees but also all volunteers,” said a diocese spokesperson.

The Catholic Conference of Ohio could not immediately be reached.

This is not the first time SNAP has called for a statewide investigation. In 2018, the group called for then-Attorney General Mike DeWine to investigate.

And in 2007, after pressure from advocates, the state Senate passed a bill that would have created a one-year window for victims to file lawsuits alleging child sex abuse that had occurred as long as 35 years earlier. But facing heavy pressure from Catholic leaders, the Ohio House stripped out that provision before the law passed. In its place, they proposed a “civil registry” for sex offender, which as The Dispatch revealed in 2014, was never used.

SNAP and other advocacy groups point to recent cases of abuse that they say indicate the problem is ongoing.

Recent convictions of Ohio Catholic priests include the Rev. Mike Zacharius of Toledo in 2023, the Rev. David Morrier of Franciscan University in Steubenville in 2022, the Rev. Robert McWilliams of Strongsville in 2021, the Rev. Henry Foxhoven in 2018 and the Rev. Geoff Drew of Cincinnati in 2021.

In its letter to Yost, SNAP and the other advocates alleged that current Archbishop Dennis Schnurr made Drew the pastor of St. Ignatius School in Cincinnati in 2018, “apparently with full awareness of previous criminal investigations into his conduct with minors.” Drew pleaded guilty to nine counts of rape in December 2021.

Jennnifer Schack, a spokesperson for the Cincinnati Archdiocese, said Schnurr was unaware of the allegations at the time of Drew’s appointment, citing lack of communication between archdiocese staff — who were aware of the allegations — and the bishop.

Rebecca Surendorff, from Ohioans for Child Protection, said her own children attended St. Ignatius and some were baptized by Drew.

Asked whether the scandals had shaken her faith, Surendorff’s colleague Dinwiddie-Herrmann said, “My faith is not with the men on this Earth. My faith is out of the Eucharist and my own personal faith. What is startling to me is that our religious leaders … are supposed to lead the pathway for our morality, but they’re covering for child sexual abuse.”

Correction: Due to a reporter’s error, a previous version of this article misstated the name of the Ohioans for Child Protection member whose children attended St. Ignatius School. It was Rebecca Surendorff.

Complete Article HERE!

Leave a Reply