Retired priest faces sex abuse allegation, denies claim

BRIDGEPORT — A retired Belmont County Catholic priest and former schoolteacher has been relieved of active ministry duties after the Roman Catholic Diocese of Steubenville received what it says is a credible sexual abuse allegation against him.

Diocese spokesman Dino Orsatti said Monday that Monsignor Mark Froelich, 75, of Belmont, will no longer be able to participate in church-related activities. Although Froelich retired in 2014, he was still helping some churches with activities such as Masses, confessions and church functions.

As of Monday night, Froelich was not facing criminal charges. But Bishop Jeffrey M. Monforton decided that the allegation was serious enough to remove him from those duties, Orsatti said.

“Our attorneys felt that the accusations are credible enough that the retired priest should be removed from active ministry,” he said.

“We take every allegation extremely seriously,” said Orsatti who also said the Roman Catholic Church issued a zero-tolerance policy regarding sexual abuse allegations in 2002. “We’re just following that decree and taking extra precautions.”

However, Froelich said Monday night that he disputes the allegation.

“These things are not truthful,” said Froelich. “I haven’t even seen these allegations, so I really can’t comment.

“I’ve been doing this for 50 years,” Froelich said of his duties as a teacher and as a priest. “With this crazy #MeToo crap that’s going on, a defendant like me will have a tough time.”

Froelich said he taught English and Latin at both Catholic and public schools as well as advised the staff of various yearbooks. He taught at St. Joseph Central Grade School in Bridgeport, where he once served as the St. Joseph parish priest, beginning in 1988. The diocese closed St. Joseph’s school in 2011 because of declining enrollment. Froelich also said he taught at St. John Central High School, Bellaire, from 1978-1981.

Orsatti said Froelich also taught at Guernsey Catholic High School, Cambridge, and St. Joseph Catholic High School, Ironton. He said the allegation did not come from a student at any of those schools.

Newspaper records indicate that Froelich, originally of Woodsfield, was ordained at Holy Name Cathedral, Steubenville, in 1969. He was stationed at churches throughout Eastern Ohio but was pastor of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish, in Barnesville, as well as St. Mary Parish, in Temperanceville, at the time of his retirement.

Orsatti said Monforton informed priests throughout the diocese Friday about the allegations. During Mass Saturday and Sunday, several of those priests read statements about Froelich to their parishioners.

All those churches are in Belmont County. They are St. Joseph; St. Mary; Assumption of Blessed Virgin Mary; and Sacred Heart, Neffs.

Orsatti said the diocese encourages anyone who is a sexual abuse victim to call the police. The diocese also asks that victims within the diocese contact Thomas S. Wilson in the diocese office of civil law. He can be reached 740-282-3631 or at twilson@diosteub.org

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