Ex-Baseball Star Says Priest Molested Him

ByABC News via GMA logo
March 27, 2002, 10:10 PM

K I S S I M M E E, Fla., March 28 -- For four decades, former major league baseball star Tom Paciorek kept a secret that, for most of that time, he couldn't even reveal to his close family.

He says that as a teenager growing up in Detroit in the 1960s, he was molested more than 100 times by a teacher at his Catholic school, a family friend who later became a priest. The abuse started when Paciorek was 15 and lasted until he left for college on a football scholarship at 19, he said.

Paciorek said he decided to go public because the Rev. Gerald Shirilla was recently reassigned to St. Mary's Catholic Church, a parish in Alpena, Mich. He said he feared for the safety of the parish's children.

"I realized that the children in that parish were in grave danger," Paciorek, 55, told Good Morning America. "I felt like I couldn't live with myself. Something had to be done to protect the children."

Paciorek, now a sports commentator for the Atlanta Braves, spoke to Good Morning America from Kissimmee, where he is covering spring training. Three of his brothers have also accused Shirilla of molesting them when they were boys. The siblings never spoke of the incidents until about 20 years ago, when one of Paciorek's brothers opened up to the others.

After learning of Shirilla's appointment, the brothers went to the Detroit Free Press and told their story together.

As revelations of sexual abuse by priests have surfaced nationwide, the Catholic Church seems to be listening at last, Paciorek said.

Removed From Church

The day before Paciorek's accusations appeared in the newspaper, Shirilla was removed from the church. Now 63, he had been out of active service for nine years. The Archdiocese of Detroit had barred Shirilla from active ministry after hearing what it called credible evidence in 1993 that he had molested boys, decades earlier.

Shirilla's attorney denies the former baseball's star's allegations.

"Father Shirilla never abused or molested Tom Paciorek," attorney Michael Smith told Good Morning America. "Father Shirilla detests any sexual molestation of anyone."