Alpena priest removed for sexual misconduct

Published March 22, 2002

ALPENA, Mich. (AP) - A Roman Catholic priest believed unfit to be a priest by the Archdiocese of Detroit nearly 10 years ago because of allegations of sexual misconduct with boys was removed as pastor from a church here.

The Rev. Gerald Shirilla was removed Wednesday from St. Mary Catholic Church in Alpena.

Shirilla was placed on administrative leave in 1993 by the archdiocese and prohibited from public ministry, including saying mass and performing marriages.

Because the archdiocese never lifted its prohibition, Shirilla's removal from the Gaylord Diocese means he remains barred from exercising his priestly ministry, including performing sacraments, Ned McGrath, a spokesman for the Detroit Archdiocese, told the Detroit Free Press for story yesterday.

Shirilla could not be reached for comment.

The archdiocese's sanction of Shirilla in 1993 was related to a civil lawsuit filed by a former student that year. Declan DeMeyer said Shirilla sexually abused him in the 1970s while Demeyer was at the seminary.

Shirilla, now 63, admitted in a deposition that he massaged Demeyer's chest and stomach while in the youth's bedroom in 1978.

The court said the priest also had admitted massaging other boys' chests while he or they were in their underwear, but denied any improper sexual contact.

The lawsuit against Shirilla and the archdiocese was dismissed in 1999 because the alleged abuse had occurred too long before. Michigan law required victims abused as minors to file for monetary civil damages before they turned 19.

Shirilla accepted an assignment in August 2001 to lead the Alpena parish without the approval of Detroit Cardinal Adam Maida, who had removed him from ministry.

The Detroit Archdiocese learned of Shirilla's Alpena assignment shortly after the priest arrived at the parish, McGrath said.

"We've known he was in Gaylord since last fall," he said. "He accepted it without our approval or permission."

McGrath said that as a diocesan priest, Shirilla should have sought permission from Maida before deciding to serve in the Gaylord Diocese.

Asked whether Bishop Patrick Cooney of the Gaylord Diocese consulted Maida before appointing Shirilla, or what Maida told Cooney, McGrath said: "Let's just say there was a difference of opinion."

Cooney, who could not be reached for comment, said earlier he believed Shirilla "posed no threat to the well-being of our children" and that Shirilla's alleged misconduct involved "errors in judgment."

DeMeyer said he feels sympathy and forgiveness when he thinks of Shirilla, though the alleged abuse has emotionally harmed him and created inhibitions he didn't have before.

"I'm forgiving. I feel bad for him because of the bondage he's in," he said. "He's bound by sin and he's bound by his religion."