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Saturday, 6 April, 2002, 05:22 GMT 06:22 UK
Accused US priest found dead
Cardinal John Egan
The Church is accused of covering up abuse allegations
A Roman Catholic priest accused of sexually molesting a girl two decades ago has been found dead in the United States having apparently committed suicide.

Don Rooney
Rooney was due to discuss abuse allegations with church officials
Father Don Rooney's body was discovered slumped in his car in a shopping centre car park in Cleveland, Ohio, with a gunshot wound to the head, police said.

A suicide note was reported to have been found near the body.

The alarm was raised after 48-year-old Rooney failed to appear at a meeting with local church officials to discuss allegations that he had molested a woman when she was still in her teens during the early 1980s.

Latest scandal

The allegations, which came to light after the unnamed woman contacted church leaders, have not been fully investigated or substantiated.

In a statement Rooney's diocese asked for "God's healing balm on the lives of Father Don's mother and his family".

Pope John Paul II
The scandal has rocked the Catholic Church
Rooney's apparent suicide is the latest in a series of scandals to rock the American Catholic Church.

Earlier this week New York's Roman Catholic archdiocese gave government prosecutors a list of priests who have been accused of sexually abusing children in the past.

The archdiocese also set out new guidelines for handling fresh allegations.

The move was seen as a major U-turn following strong public pressure on the church in New York.

New York's cardinal, John Egan, has been accused of helping cover up such cases when he was a bishop in Connecticut.

There is growing attention across the United States to allegations of child sexual abuse against priests, after scandals from Boston to Florida.

The Church itself is also facing mounting criticism following allegations that it covered up cases of abuse for decades.

See also:

04 Apr 02 | Americas
Vatican sued in sex abuse cases
21 Mar 02 | Europe
Pope denounces 'evil' sex priests
12 Mar 02 | Americas
Church agrees sex abuse payout
02 Apr 02 | Americas
Paedophile priests 'damage church'
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