16 Priests Commit Suicide Since 1986

Associated Press/May 26, 2002

Cleveland -- At least 16 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 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, Md., 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.''

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