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  Dead Priest in Abuse Suit Defended

By Bill Zajac
[Springfield MA] Union-News
March 24, 2003

James J. McCarthy was furious when he learned that a lifelong friend, a deceased priest, had been accused of sexual abuse. The Chicopee resident was even more upset that diocesan officials, when asked to comment on the civil suit, didn't speak up about the good work his friend, the Rev. E. Karl Huller, had performed during his 43 years of ministry.

McCarthy was then shocked to learn that clearing the reputation of his friend - a World War II hero and former athletic director at Cathedral High School - was not a priority for diocesan lawyers fighting the suit.

"I was so upset I sent a letter to the bishop. I want his name cleared," McCarthy said.

Huller has been accused of sexual abuse by Norman D. LaPolice, a 52-year-old Salve Regina College adjunct professor, and a 52-year-old disabled veteran from Chicopee who filed a suit last week under a pseudonym to remain anonymous.

Huller molested LaPolice 15 to 20 times after counseling sessions when Huller was a counselor at Cathedral High School and LaPolice a student in the 1960s, according to a civil lawsuit filed in Hampden Superior Court in December.

The other man was molested at least four times, also when he was a Cathedral student, according to the suit.

Huller is not alone. At least a couple of hundred dead priests nationwide have been accused of sexual abuse during the current Roman Catholic Church sexual abuse crisis.

Although these priests are accused of sexual abuse, they usually aren't named as defendants in suits because claims can no longer be made against their estates. In Massachusetts, a claim against an estate can be made only within a year of a person's death.

In just about all the cases, the diocese is sued for not having properly supervised the accused priests.

Michael K. Callan, a lawyer for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, admits that clearing Huller of abuse is not his concern.

"We are defending the diocese. Our concern is that the diocese didn't have knowledge of any abuse that may or may not have been committed," Callan said.

David B. Rossman, a law professor at Boston University School of Law, admits dead priests are placed in an unfavorable legal position.

"Yes, we are talking about something that is often turned into one person's word against another's. So yes, in the case where the priest isn't available to speak for himself, the legal deck is stacked against them," Rossman said.

John J. Stobierski, the Greenfield lawyer who is representing 14 alleged sexual abuse victims, said that because a priest is dead shouldn't preclude accusations against them.

"I don't think it is a question of fairness. Deceased priests shouldn't be immune to judgment regarding abusing a child. That wouldn't be fair to victims," Stobierski said.

Alan J. Black, a Springfield defense lawyer who is not involved in any clerical abuse suits, said that the legal interests of the diocese and the priests can intersect.

"Presumably, if the diocese could make a case that there was no abuse, then it would serve its best interest and the dead priest's reputation," Black said.

For McCarthy and other friends of Huller, the unanswered accusation against their friend is painful.

The 63-year-old McCarthy, who was 10 when he first met Huller, called him a "a man's man" of the highest moral character.

Michael J. Murphy, 50, of Falmouth, another Huller friend, said the priest provided helpful guidance to him at Cathedral High School and into college.

"He was kind, friendly, funny and warm. At no time did I experience any discomfort with him in respecting my personal boundaries," said Murphy, who today helps evaluate the dangerousness of sexual criminals for the state's court system.

McCarthy believes accusers should take lie detector tests, whereas the diocese should be responsible for doing all it can to clear the name of accused deceased priests.

"After all, they gave their life to the church," he said.

Huller accuser LaPolice, the father of a teen-age daughter, said it was difficult to identify himself as a sexual abuse victim.

"I never would have come forward if the climate had not changed," said LaPolice, referring to the hundreds of other accusations that have been made nationwide in the past year.

He and the Chicopee man stand firmly by their accusations. They said they are motivated by the hope that their suits might empower other victims to come forward.

Bill Zajac can be reached at wzajac@union-news.com

 
 

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