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Priest Suicides Tied To Sex Charges?

At least 16 Roman Catholic priests accused of sexually abusing children, including 12 priests in the United States, have killed themselves since 1986, a newspaper reported Saturday.

The numbers were found in an investigation by The Plain Dealer after the suicide April 4 of the Rev. Don Rooney, a priest in the Cleveland Roman Catholic Diocese who faced allegations that he had sexually abused a child.

Suicide is rare among priests and is considered a sin by the church, though in modern times, the church has expressed more understanding for mental distress.

The Rev. Stephen J. Rossetti, director of the St. Luke Institute in Silver Spring, Maryland, a treatment center for abusive priests, recently sent an e-mail to every U.S. bishop urging care in investigations involving priests and saying he feared more priests would kill themselves as additional accusations were made.

After the e-mail was sent, a priest accused of molesting two boys in Connecticut hanged himself at the center, where he was being treated. It was the first suicide at the institution in its 25-year-history.

"Imagine you're a priest," said Kalman Kaplan, a psychology professor at Wayne State University in Detroit who studies suicide. "People see you as a teacher, an educator, someone carrying on the moral tradition from one generation to the next. Now it's being publicly exposed that you have abused children.

"Where do you go from here? Your whole identity is shattered. The shame can be overwhelming, the options few."

After Rooney killed himself, Cleveland Bishop Anthony Pilla preached a message of forgiveness at Rooney's funeral Mass.

"The meaning of Father Rooney's death is hidden from our eyes," Pilla said. "Yet, we cannot conclude that his life and death had no meaning or were rejected by God."

Nationwide, at least 225 priests have either been dismissed from their duties or resigned since the sex abuse scandal erupted early this year.

In other developments:

  • Auxiliary Bishop Richard Sklba will lead the Milwaukee Archdiocese until the pope names a successor to Rembert Weakland, who acknowledged last week he reached a six-figure settlement with a man who accused him of sexual assault.

    A group of nine priests elected Sklba at a meeting late Friday, archdiocese spokesman Jerry Topczewski said. Sklba will temporarily lead the 685,000 Catholics in the 10-county archdiocese until a new archbishop is installed.

    Sklba called on Catholics in the archdiocese to remember Weakland's good deeds despite the revelation the archbishop paid a man $450,000 four years ago to settle a sexual misconduct allegation.

    Weakland's 25-year tenure ended when the Vatican accepted his resignation Friday, a day after he issued a statement confirming the settlement payment to Paul Marcoux, 54.

    Weakland is the highest-ranking American churchman to acknowledge settling a sexual assault allegation against him. Weakland has asked the pope to expedite his resignation, which he submitted in April after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 75.

  • Cardinals Bernard Law in Boston and Theodore McCarrick in Washington spoke at the ordinations of new priests Saturday, calling the men's presence a sign of hope as the church deals with a national sex abuse scandal.

    During his address to five candidates at the annual ordination at Holy Cross Cathedral, Law cited a Biblical verse in James: "Count it pure joy when you are involved in every sort of trial."

    "It was as though James had us in mind," Law said.

    The Boston archdiocese has been under fire for months after it was learned that officials, including Law, knew some priests had sexually abused children but that the officials still moved the priests from parish to parish. One former Boston-area priest, John J. Geoghan, was convicted in January of molesting one boy and has been accused of molesting dozens of others.

    In Washington, McCarrick also ordained five new priests Saturday and said that "in the light of the trauma through which the church is passing, their presence is a sign of hope."

    McCarrick, who served on the panel that wrote the final communique from the Vatican meeting called to address the scandal, said that not all cases of abuse should be treated the same.

  • In New Hampshire, a Roman Catholic summer camp for children has become a target of sex abuse allegations from former campers, including a man who said he was sexually assaulted in the chapel by a former camp director in 1972.

    According to court records and interviews with alleged victims and their lawyers, at least eight clergymen, some allegedly with multiple victims, face allegations involving Camp Fatima, an idyllic collection of lakeside cabins run by the Diocese of Manchester.

    County prosecutor Lauren Noether last week would not disclose the number and nature of allegations under investigation at the camp, which is host to several hundred boys ages 6-15 each summer.

    Authorities do say all the alleged assaults happened at least a decade ago.

    In New Hampshire, nearly 50 current or former priests already face sexual assault allegations.

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