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Child sexual abuse survivors release names, urge Ohio to investigate Catholic dioceses | #childpredator | #kidsaftey | #childsaftey

COLUMBUS — Advocates against child sex abuse have filed a letter to the Ohio attorney general, asking the state to hold accused predators in the Catholic Church accountable.

“We are asking Attorney General Yost to simply step up and get on the train of accountability and justice for victims,” said Claudia Vercellotti with the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).

Ohioans for Child Protection SNAP have made a formal request to Attorney General Dave Yost. They are asking him to conduct a statewide investigation of the history and scope of child sexual abuse and its covering up by the state’s Catholic dioceses.

Vercellotti brought forward reports from other states, where their attorneys general listed substantiated allegations against individuals in the Catholic church. Many had worked in Ohio.

“Information developed on 49 credibly-accused clerics from other attorneys general’s reports with ties to Ohio,” she said. “It makes you wonder what would Attorney General Yost uncover if he merely investigated?”

The Catholic Conference of Ohio declined to answer if they would support this type of investigation. But in a statement, a spokesperson said that the church does background checks and has ongoing safe environment training for employees and volunteers.

Yost also gave a statement, saying that he encourages victims to come forward, but this is handled at the local level.

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

Case Western Reserve University law professor Jonathan Entin confirmed that Yost doesn’t have the authority.

“Although the attorney general is the chief legal officer for the state, criminal prosecution is vested in county prosecutors,” Entin said.

Why is that?

“The concern is you don’t want to give the attorney general too much power,” Entin said.

A rogue local prosecutor is a local problem — but a rogue attorney general can cause harm to the entire state, he said.

“Some states think that the potential risk of an abusive attorney general outweighs whatever benefit there might be from having a single statewide coordinated prosecution process,” Entin explained.

Vercellotti and other advocates say there are still ways Yost can investigate.

“[The AG and his team] are able to investigate charitable organizations within our state,” Rebecca Surendorff said. “If you go to our Attorney General’s website, they do indicate that they give oversight to charitable organizations, and the Catholic church is also a charitable organization.”

Unfortunately, this wouldn’t exactly help their cause, CWRU law professor Michael Benza said.

“That type of investigation would go towards their charitable status,” Benza said.

The advocates dropped off the formal letter to the AG’s office – hoping for him to get more involved.

“It takes seconds to abuse a child and a lifetime to overcome it,” Vercellotti said.

“My daughter was 2 months old when I unknowingly placed her in the hands of a pedophile,” said Rebecca Surendorff, who also spoke Wednesday in Columbus.

Surendorff, from Cincinnati, spoke about her experiences with former Catholic priest Geoff Drew, who was also her music teacher growing up at St. Jude Bridgetown. Drew is currently serving seven years in prison after pleading guilty to nine counts of rape in 2021.

“This was a case of a man that was raping my classmate when I was in grade school who was able to run a school in Ohio,” said Surendorff.

She argues Yost could conduct a statewide investigation to find out if there are more abusers who haven’t been disclosed by the Catholic Church. Last year, the WCPO 9 I-Team spoke with Paul Neyer, who was the man Drew abused more than 30 years ago which lasted more than two years.

“I didn’t want my family to have to go through this I didn’t want to have to deal with the pain I was a wreck,” said Neyer.

The Catholic Conference of Ohio said in a statement: “Every diocese in Ohio diligently maintains safe environments for all children and adults. The Catholic Church conducts background checks and on-going safe environment training for employees and volunteers.”

This article was first published by WCPO, a content partner of the Journal-News.

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