Guest column/Too many questions remain in Zalenski case

We, as officials with Neffs American Legion Post 77, were horrified to read the press release from the Diocese of Steubenville during the week of Oct. 29. We saw a glaring and blatant gross misrepresentation of at least one name on that list, the Rev. Gary Zalenski. He was lumped into a group of those “who have been credibly accused or admitted to sexual abuse of a minor and removed from active ministry,” with no mention of the true and actual details of the civil criminal investigation of any allegation against him.

We accept the facts in the article as he was “suspended in 2007, and dismissed … as a result of an ecclesiastical trial.” However, all of the facts are extremely important to “the rest of the story,” as Paul Harvey used to say.

When most people read “ecclesiastical trial” all they see is the word “trial” and think it is conducted like a trial we saw on “Law and Order” with a judge, jury, prosecuting attorney and defense attorney, where the facts are heard, all witnesses are heard and all arguments are presented. Instead, in a “church” trial there is no jury — the judges are priests who act or pretend to be criminal investigators, with no real criminal training, who are permitted to limit the number of witnesses, accept only what facts and evidence that meets their pre-conceived conclusion and then they are done. There is one appeal done on paper only and that conclusion is final.

We do not accept the findings of a kangaroo court that ignores the findings and conclusions of a county criminal investigation and the decision of a grand jury. The article states “credible allegation.” What constitutes a credible allegation? A sheriff’s investigation did not find the alleged victim’s allegations to be credible. The prosecutor of Guernsey County did not find the person’s allegations credible. A grand jury did not find her allegation credible. What does the Diocese of Steubenville know that makes her allegations credible and has not been presented to the prosecutor of Guernsey County? Bishop Jeffrey Monforton constantly cries “transparency” to the news media. We do not see this as transparency — we see this as a smoke screen. Let’s see transparency here.

According to spokesman Dino Orsatti, “a ‘credible allegation’ … is an accusation that, after a thorough investigation and review … in the judgement (sic) … of the review board, and is accepted as credible by the bishop.”

The Diocese of Steubenville’s website lists Judge Frank Fregiato of Belmont County and Prosecutor Dan Fry of Belmont County as members of the review board. Do they and the rest of the review board consider the months of work done by the BCI of Guernsey County as not thorough? Does Fregiato consider the decision of the grand jury to be inadequate? Does Fry consider the work of prosecutor Dan Padden to be substandard? Would Fregiato allow a perjured (substantial) affidavit to be brought to his court? Would attorney Fry prosecute someone whose allegation does not fit into proper timelines? Would a witness be considered reliable who has been caught (in writing) colluding with the accuser? Guernsey County did its homework and presented its findings. Bishop Dan Conlon did not accept their findings and decision, and pursued to establish his own tribunal to arrive at a different conclusion. Does this review board have any purpose? How can this review board recommend this kind of allegation to be defined as credible?

Orsatti stated that an allegation is determined to be “credible … after a thorough investigation.” This allegation was pronounced “credible” long before the prosecutor and grand jury completed their investigation. Who does the Diocese of Steubenville have who is qualified to complete a “thorough investigation” before Guernsey County completed its? The Diocese of Steubenville does not seem to be following its own policies that it claims to the public they are following.

We have also learned that the person who made the allegations was paid money by the Diocese of Steubenville, probably to keep her mouth shut and stay out of the country or at least out of the Diocese of Steubenville. We know that this is a credible claim because we were told this by someone, the standard the Diocese of Steubenville uses to define “credible.” Has anyone asked if this is part of the missing money? Monforton constantly cries “transparency” to the news media. Where is the transparency, here?

The facts are that Father Zalenski — and we will continue to call him father — was cleared by a grand jury investigation in 2008, declaring the allegation made against him to have no probable cause. The church trial did what it wants because it has much lower and flexible standards. Today, we are told, appeals are not even being heard at the Vatican because they are running scared and those who are appealing bad decisions are left in “limbo.”

We feel that Eastern Gateway Community College overreacted when it allowed the diocese to incite panic at the college and the college wrongfully terminated Gary Zalenski from his teaching position within hours of the press release, without allowing him to present his side of the matter. The college only hurt him and the students he was working so hard to teach. We hope that none of these students fail their course as a result of this abrupt transition. We feel that Eastern Gateway Community College — its president, administration and board of directors — owes him and his students an apology. We feel the college owes Zalenski reinstatement. The allegation has been investigated and closed in 2008. Is this initial reaction what the college teaches in its police academy and in its criminal justice program?

While on this subject, we also feel that the president and board of directors at Belmont College should not allow another woman to dictate who should or should not teach there. When the grand jury presented its decision in 2008, Belmont Technical College reinstated Zalenski to his teaching position in 2009. In 2015, this woman presented a vile and slanderous letter to the president, and he was not offered another class again. Instead, she should have been told that if she has a problem with our criminal justice system, she should take up her problem with the county prosecutor. He gave 16 successful years to the college and hundreds, maybe thousands, of students have given him an A rating. We feel that this president, administration and board of directors also owe him an apology.

Zalenski has served this community and this organization for nearly 20 years. We know him, we believe in him and we accept and respect the investigation and the outcome of the criminal justice system of Guernsey County. Why doesn’t the Diocese of Steubenville and its review board do the same? If they have evidence that contradicts the criminal investigation, then they should come forward with it and present it. Otherwise, we believe that it is time for them to correct a wrong.

We are a veterans and patriotic organization. We have fought to protect the rights and values of every citizen, and we respect the policies and procedures of our country. We ask that the Diocese of Steubenville respect the policies and procedures of our country, and do the right thing. We have fought to protect freedom of the press and free speech. We hope that this venue will allow us to express our opinions for justice.

(Peters is commander; Mort, president of the Ladies Auxiliary; and Land, adjutant of the Ladies Auxiliary of Neffs American Legion Post 77.)