YOUNGSTOWN - Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul J. Gains said that an investigation into alleged sex crimes involving anyone connected with the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown cannot be launched unless victims file a formal complaint.
Gains said that when he learned that Judy Jones, Midwest Associate Director for SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), intended to hand-deliver a letter to him on Tuesday, he asked her to meet with him.
"I advised her that the prosecutor's office, any prosecutor's office, can only seek indictment against someone after a complaint has been filed with the appropriate civil authority, and the police or appropriate authority collects the evidence and presents it to the prosecutor," Gains said Tuesday afternoon.
Jones, who traveled to Youngstown from St. Louis, said her goal was to urge Gains to investigate the local Catholic diocese in light of recent allegations by former Warren John F. Kennedy High School students.
She said that her letter to Gains "details accounts from survivors of clergy abuse who claim that the diocese is ignoring the victims of abuse and keeping credibly accused predators in ministry."
Jones said that initially, she and other members of SNAP wanted "Gains to step in, convene a grand jury, and find out exactly what is going on within the diocese."
If you go
Bishop George V. Murry has scheduled a news conference for 10:30 a.m. Thursday at the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown offices, 144 W. Wood St., Youngstown, to address recent reports relative to the Diocese of Youngstown Schools. The event will be held in the main conference room.
"I understand what Mr. Gains is saying," she said after meeting with the prosecutor. "Victims need to get the abuse on a police report, no matter how long ago it happened. And wherever your abuse happened, no matter what county or jurisdiction, that's where you need to file the complaint. That's what we need to focus on.
''We need to encourage victims to go to the police, to make complaints and file police reports so we can stop these predators from hurting children,'' Jones said.
Jones said several people have told her about the sexual abuse they suffered as children at the hands of people connected to the local diocese. She said church officials, including Bishop George V. Murry, have known all about these claims, but have ignored them or covered them up.
In response, the diocese announced that Murry has scheduled a news conference for 10:30 a.m. Thursday at the diocese offices in Youngstown to "address recent media reports relative to the Diocese of Youngstown Schools."
Jones in a written statement said, "This bishop continues to act recklessly, callously and secretively. Only vigorous efforts by law enforcement can fully find and expose the truth so that kids can be safer, predators can be pursued and victims can truly heal."
The allegations came almost a week after Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian disclosed that he settled 11 child sex abuse cases last year against Stephen Baker Baker, a Franciscan brother who worked as a religion teacher, sports trainer and baseball coach at John F. Kennedy High School in Warren.
Since that information was disclosed at a news conference with two alleged victims last week, dozens of other former students of Baker - here and in Johnstown, Pa., where he also worked - have come forward with their own claims of sexual abuse, Garabedian said on Monday.
Baker, who now lives at St. Bernardine Monastery near Hollidaysburg, Pa., has not been criminally charged. Initially, he said he was flabbergasted when he told of the allegations last week.
JFK, the Youngstown Diocese and the Third Order Regular Franciscan Order settled the potential civil lawsuit in October with the 11 students against Baker through Garabedian. The men said they were abused by the Franciscan brother between 1986 and 1990 while they were students at JFK.
Baker now also faces allegations at another Catholic school, Bishop McCort High, in Johnstown, Pa.
"I believe this man sexually abused hundreds of his students and that he continue to abuse children today," Garabedian said.