Advocates ask Yost to investigate Ohio’s Catholic dioceses

COLUMBUS — A group of concerned parents, Catholics and advocates for child sexual abuse survivors are asking Attorney General Dave Yost to initiate a statewide investigation into the history of scope of sexual abuse within Ohio’s six Catholic dioceses.

The groups, which include parents from Ohioans for Child Protection, Greater Cincinnati Voice of the Faithful, Concerned Catholics of Cincinnati and the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, take inspiration from recent investigations into sexual abuse within the Catholic church completed by attorneys general in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Maryland.

“Failing to investigate systemic failures within Ohio dioceses and parochial schools allows abuse enablers and sexual perpetrators to remain in positions of authority over thousands of vulnerable Ohio children,” they wrote in a letter delivered to Yost on Wednesday.

“Without a robust secular investigation, we fear that the continued cycle of abuse and cover-up will continue unabated.”

Advocates identified 49 clerics with links to Ohio whose names appear in grand jury reports from Pennsylvania, Illinois and Maryland, including one former associate pastor who spent two years at St. Gerard parish in Lima in the 1980s.

The group also cited recent convictions like that of Fr. Michael Zacharias, a priest who most recently served as pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church in Findlay, who was convicted of several sex trafficking-related crimes in U.S. District Court in May.

“This is a larger public safety issue,” Rebecca Surendorff, co-chair of Ohioans for Child Protection, told The Lima News.

Yost’s office did not return requests for comment from The Lima News, but a statement released to other news outlets said the attorney general does not have the authority to investigate the issue unless state lawmakers revise the law.

“If there are specific accusations of criminal conduct that have not been investigated — especially alleging the sexual abuse or trafficking of children — the proper action is to contact local law enforcement with this information,” Lisa Peterson, director of communications for Gov. Mike DeWine, said in an emailed statement.

But Surendorff and other advocates, who have made similar requests in the past, argue a broader investigation is needed given the complexity of allegations that often cross state and county lines. “It does become more difficult to think that we’re going to have 88 county prosecutors look into something like this,” Surendorff said.

Maryland investigation into abusive clergy has ties to Lima

Fr. Paul Knapp, who was dismissed from the priesthood in 1995, spent two years as an associate pastor at St. Gerard Catholic Church in Lima in the 1980s.

Knapp reportedly abused a 13-year-old girl through while he was an associate pastor and chaplain in Annapolis, Maryland, on multiple occasions starting in 1975, according to a Maryland grand jury report documenting the state’s investigation into the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

He transferred to St. Gerard Church in 1981, nearly a decade before the girl’s parents reported Knapp to the Redemptorist Order in Annapolis, according to the report. He transferred to another assignment in New York in 1983.

The report does not document any allegations from Knapp’s time in Lima, but accusations included in the report show Knapp reportedly engaged in sexual misconduct — soliciting a young woman for sex in confessional or on retreat, crawling out of a teenage girl’s sleeping bag while supervising a service project — before and after his assignment here.

He took a leave of absence in 1993 and was dismissed from the priesthood two years later, the report found.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore listed Knapp as credibly accused in 2002, the report found, while the Diocese of Toledo added Knapp to its list of credibly accused extern clergy, or clerics who are not incardinated within the diocese, in 2019.