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Criminal Complaint Filed Against Priest

January 8, 2008
CAMBRIDGE, Ohio — Beth Rocker traveled a long way to file a criminal complaint alleging she had been sexually abused by a former Belmont County Catholic priest.

She came from Jerusalem, Israel.

Rocker, 28, met with Guernsey County Sheriff Michael R. McCauley and Prosecutor Daniel G. Padden Monday, at which time she alleged that in the early 1990s the Rev. Gary Zalenski sexually abused her several times.

Following the meeting, Rocker disclosed her identity and spoke to news reporters about the alleged assaults.

She claims Zalenski assaulted her when, at 10-11 years of age, she attended St. Peter and Paul parish in Lore City, a tiny community a few miles southeast of Cambridge. Zalenski was pastor of the church at the time of the alleged assaults. Most recently, he pastored Sacred Hart Parish in Neffs from 2000-2006.

Rocker told reporters she was abused several times by Zalenski.

‘‘They (the sexual abuses) occurred at the church and at several other locations,’’ she said. ‘‘The statute of limitations has not expired, and I am coming forward to help protect other children and to encourage other victims to seek help in cases like this.’’

Rocker, originally from Columbus, lived on a farm in Guernsey County for about 10 years. She said it was during that time that the sexual assaults occurred.

Rocker said she now works and attends school in Jerusalem but will return to Ohio if criminal charges are filed against Zalenski and the case goes to trial.

‘‘I got married recently, and we are here visiting family,’’ she said.

Padden said detectives from the sheriff’s department will investigate the allegations.

‘‘They have a lot of work to do,’’ he said. ‘‘There is no way of knowing at this time if the case will be taken to the Guernsey County grand jury.’’

During the sidewalk news conference, Rocker was surrounded by representatives of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. Judy Jones, southeastern Ohio SNAP director, said victims should report sexual assaults to law enforcement authorities.

‘‘Don’t go to the diocese, go to the police,’’ she said. ‘‘It’s a crime.’’

On Nov. 11, Bishop R. Daniel Conlon of the Diocese of Steubenville withdrew Zalenski from active ministry and removed him as pastor of Sacred Heart Parish.

In a statement concerning the matter, the bishop said Zalenski was removed ‘‘as the result of a credible allegation of his having sexually assaulted a minor in 1991. He may not present himself as a priest or carry out any public function as a priest. Within a few days he will move from the rectory at Sacred Heart to a private residence of his own choosing.’’

Conlon said the allegation was brought to the Diocese of Steubenville by a then-unnamed woman who was a young parishioner at Saints Peter and Paul Parish in Lore City, Ohio, where Zalenski was pastor.

‘‘This is all very painful,’’ Conlon said. ‘‘I am angered that a young member of the church was apparently violated. I am embarrassed that the offender was a brother priest. I am troubled that absolute certainty about the matter is probably beyond my reach, and yet I must act. I grieve that two parishes and two families are thrown into turmoil.’’

He said all information about the matter obtained by the diocese was sent to the Guernsey County prosecutor.

Article Photos

Photo by Fred Connors
In the foreground talking to reporters Monday after filing a criminal complaint in Guernsey County, Ohio, alleging sexual abuse by former Belmont County Catholic priest the Rev. Gary Zalenski is Beth Rocker, right, who claims to be a victim, and Judy Jones, southeastern Ohio director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

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