CLEVELAND - A national organization that represents clergy sex abuse victims is calling on the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland to release records of an exhaustive 2002 grand jury investigation into the priest-pedophile scandal.
"We think the time is now for church officials in Cleveland to lift the cover of secrecy and release these records to the public," says Zach Hiner, the executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).
Last Friday, the diocese released the names of 22 more clerics against whom have been made substantiated allegations of child sexual abuse - most of them are now dead - bringing the total number of names released in Cleveland to 51.
In 2002, as the abuse scandal exploded nationwide , FOX 8 did a series of reports focusing on the Cleveland Diocese.
The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office then began a painstaking examination that investigated allegations of child sexual abuse within the Cleveland Diocese going back half a century.
A 28 person team spent seven months looking at the scandal, calling people before a grand jury to testify and, according to the prosecutor's office, acquiring roughly 50,000 pages of documents - about 40,000 of them from the diocese.
In neighboring Pennsylvania, a grand jury report last year detailed a troubling history of abuse and cover-ups - one that put pressure on diocese around the nation, as well as Catholic schools and colleges, to release the names of more suspected abusers.
In the early 2000's, FOX 8 sued for the type of detailed records that were released last year in Pennsylvania. The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office joined us at the time in calling for their public release.
The Diocese of Cleveland opposed the release of its records. Its attorneys argued in part in a court filing that "(Fox 8's) stated primary interest in the safety of children is not a legally protectible interest."
Judge Brian Corrigan ruled that the laws surrounding grand jury secrecy in Ohio would not allow for such a release.
Now, SNAP is calling on the diocese to voluntarily release those records. SNAP released the following statement to FOX 8:
"The Diocese of Cleveland last week updated its list of priests accused of sexual abuse. Today we are calling on the diocese to deepen their commitment to transparency by releasing the records from a 2002 grand jury investigation.
According to a court ruling, only the Diocese of Cleveland has the power to release the records from the 2002 investigation that reviewed more than 1,000 cases involving more than 140 priests. Given the new national focus on the issue of clergy abuse, we think that the time is now for church officials in Cleveland to lift the cover of secrecy and release these records to the public.
The best way of preventing future cases of clergy abuse is by understanding what went wrong in the past. In the same year that the Cleveland grand jury investigation records were sealed, Catholic bishops met in Dallas and promised to be “open and honest” about cases of clergy abuse. Church officials today should live up to that promise, eschew the secrecy that has benefited them in the past, and work today to help build safer, more informed communities.
Last week’s update to their list of abusive clergy is only a start. Bishop Nelson Perez should not delay any longer in releasing these records. The bishop should choose to protect children and vulnerable adults instead of other church officials."
SNAP's sentiments were echoed by Don and Suzan Kodger, who settled with the diocese over an abuse allegation against Father James Mulica (now deceased) regarding one of their children.
"Absolutely the records should be released," Don Kodger now says.
In a statement released to FOX 8 on Tuesday, the Cleveland Diocese did not directly address the calls for it to release the grand jury records. The statement says:
"Since 2002 the Diocese of Cleveland has been a leader in youth safety through its efforts to create a safe environment for the children we serve in our churches and schools. Through training, education, publication of the names of clerics who have abused children, and reporting of allegations of abuse to civil authorities, the diocese and its leadership have demonstrated its commitment to ending abuse in the Church in a way that few public or private institutions have done. Abuse of children is simply not tolerated in the diocese and any cleric known to have abused a child is permanently removed from ministry."
Bishop Perez has led the diocese since 2017.