April 05, 2002

CLEVELAND (AP)--A Roman Catholic priest shot himself to death in his car three days after being accused of molesting a girl two decades ago, authorities said Friday.

The Rev. Don A. Rooney, 48, was found slumped over the wheel Thursday in a pharmacy parking lot in suburban Hinckley, a gunshot wound to the head. Cuyahoga County coroner Dr. Elizabeth Balraj ruled it suicide.

The priest left a note. ``It was just to notify a family member. That's all,'' Balraj said.

``We're just all in shock,'' said Victoria Pisano, a parishioner at Rooney's church, St. Anthony of Padua in Parma. ``I can't believe he would take his life being a man of faith.''

Robert Tayek, a spokesman for the Cleveland Diocese, said a woman had called on Monday to allege that Rooney, as a newly ordained priest, sexually abused her in 1980 when she was a girl. The alleged abuse occurred at Rooney's first priestly assignment, at a church in Wadsworth.

The allegation was turned over to the Wadsworth police, Tayek said.

The priest had been asked to come to diocesan offices on Wednesday to discuss the allegation and was reported missing by his family when he did not show, Tayek said.

Since January, dozens of priests out of more than 47,000 nationwide have been suspended or forced to resign on suspicion of child molestation, in a scandal that began in Boston.

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