By Alyssa Weston and John Stran
Bishop George Murry of the Youngstown Catholic Diocese released the names of 31 Youngstown priests; two religious clergy members and one non-clergy member from a religious order who were removed from the clergy over credible sexual misconduct allegations on Oct. 30.
According to Murry, these priests were put on the credible accusations list after a thorough investigation and review of available information, from the diocesan review board, proved the sexual abuse claims to be more true than not.
Murry said the review board includes a psychologist, the chair of the Mahoning County Board of Children Services, two attorneys, a medical doctor, the Dean of Youngstown State University’s Health and Human Services Department, a Trumbull County children services member and director, two pastors and a parent.
“We take a look at the allegations and work with a private investigation firm made up of former FBI agents,” Murry said. “We investigate every claim that comes to us and [the FBI agents] make a recommendation to us about whether or not the allegation is credible.”
According to an independent study conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, the national percentage of priests that engage in sexual misconduct is four percent.
Murry said three percent of the 1,026 Youngstown priests from the diocese and other religious orders who served between 1943 and 2018 have been credibly accused — a number he said is absolutely unacceptable.
“Three percent is far too many,” he said. “One percent is far too many, and we have to do everything possible to make sure that children are always protected.”
According to Murry, the last sexual abuse case reported within the diocese was 2005, making it a 14-year gap separating the last case and the releasing of the names.
The Youngstown Catholic Diocese has paid victims around $500,000 in settlements since the 1940’s.
The 2005 case involved Stephen Baker, a non-clergy member from a religious order, who was accused of sexually abusing 28 Warren John F. Kennedy students during his stint as teacher and coach at the school from 1986-1991.
In 2013, Baker committed suicide in a monastery in Pennsylvania, making him one of 22 names on the list who are deceased.
Murry said the purpose of releasing the names is “for the victims.”
“We want them to know that they have been heard, responded to and if there are other people who have been abused, but have hesitated to come forward, we invite them to come forward,” he said. “But it cannot end here. We have to take concrete action to ensure our children are safe.”
Murry said he thinks people are more aware of the issue in recent years, and with improvements and training within the seminary, superiors are much more aware of identifying people who have these tendencies and getting them out.
“I think that has resulted in a dramatic decrease in this activity,” he said.
Murry added that he believes children in the Diocese of Youngstown today are safe because of the programs put in place and because of the dedication of clergy to make sure children are protected.
While he hopes one day sexual assault cases within the Diocese of Youngstown will cease to exist, he’s uncertain this will ever be the case.
“What you can never control is there are some people who are psychologically disturbed, and we try to root them out,” he said. “Everything that I can do and that our staff can do to prevent this problem, we will.”
Wayne Penny Jr., YSU alumnus and Cardinal Mooney High School alumnus of 1999, was disheartened that his former history teacher, deacon Ernest Formichelli was on the list.
Formichelli lost his teaching license in 2013 after the group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) brought forward allegations against Formichelli, according to an article written by The Vindicator.
Penny described Formichelli as someone who was very involved with the school’s student body.
“[Cardinal Mooney students] put our trust in the church and he does this. When I saw the list I was praying to God I didn’t know anyone on it. This has me sick,” he said. “There’s people on my Facebook messaging me about this. We are shocked. It never happened to us, but we are thinking, ‘are you kidding me?’ We put our trust into [Formichelli], and [he’s] doing this.”
Penny theorized that faculty of the high school may have known about these allegations early on, but Cardinal Mooney could not be reached for comment to clarify.
“All administration, deacons, bishops and teachers who knew about it and hid it should be fired immediately,” Penny said.
Penny said Bishop Murry and the Youngstown Catholic Diocese did the right thing by releasing the list.
“[Murry] hasn’t been here too long so people shouldn’t be upset with him. Maybe the bishop before him, but [Murry] is just finding out about this.”
Penny talked about the possibility that the settlement money could’ve been used to pay off those who knew about the allegations and believes the accused should face charges.
“The church should press charges, but some parents may not want their children’s names in the public and to have to go through this all over again. [The families] don’t want the scrutiny and backlash,” he said.
Penny discussed the possibility of more names being released in the future.
“There’s probably 30 more names,” he said. “More is coming and heads are going to roll.”
Kayla Phares, a junior forensic science major and member of YSU’s Catholic Student Association, said she knew about this issue in other parts of the country, but when she heard priests were being accused in Youngstown, she was disheartened.
“It doesn’t benefit anybody. It doesn’t benefit the kids that are harmed and it doesn’t benefit other people in the Catholic Church,” she said. “It’s awful. I have worked with kids in Sunday schools before coming to college, and just the thought of that happening to any of them is very sad.”
Phares believes that incidents like this are likely to discourage people from converting to Catholicism.
“[The fear] is understandable, but I think it’s important to know not all priests are like this and most of the ones I know are very nice and good with kids and would never do anything to hurt them,” Phares said.
She said the Catholic Church is taking measures to prevent this from happening again.
If any YSU students have experienced sexual misconduct, they are encouraged to speak with Title IX Director Kelly Beers.
However, Phares suggested students can also reach out to Catholic faculty and staff on campus such as YSU physics professor Michael Crescimanno, head director of The Newman Center, Thomas Brozich, and assistant director of The Newman Center, Darlene Marx, if students would like to speak with someone of similar beliefs and of the same faith.
“We’re all sad about this. We all want this to stop happening and we want kids to grow in their faith and be happy doing it. This problem ending will benefit everybody,” Phares said.
Those who have been sexually assaulted by a priest or member of a clergy or know a child who may be a victim can reach out to Delphine Baldwin-Casey, victim assistance coordinator for the Diocese of Youngstown, at (330) 718-1388.
Due to time constraints, Cardinal Mooney High School did not return The Jambar’s phone calls regarding the allegations against Deacon Ernest Formichelli. This story will be updated if The Jambar hears from the school’s administration.
Read the full list released by the Youngstown Catholic Diocese here: https://thejambar.com/youngstown-diocese-releases-names-priests-credibly-accused-sexual-misconduct/