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  3 Priests Paid Fines for Exposure
Diocese Wasn't Aware Two Had Been Arrested

By Frank E. Lockwood
Lexington Herald Leader (Kentucky)
September 7, 2002

Three Lexington priests have been charged by police in the last four years after being caught exposing themselves and masturbating in Lexington's Jacobson Park, court records show.

Yesterday, the Lexington Diocese called the actions of the Revs. Kenneth Waibel and William G. Poole "scandalous behavior." It said it will investigate and take "imminent action" against the two priests.

The diocese said it was unaware of the misdemeanor charges against Waibel and Poole until the Herald-Leader raised questions Thursday about the men's records, church spokesman Thomas Shaughnessy said yesterday. He acknowledged that the church had known of a similar 1990 charge against Poole.

"The breach of celibacy, especially in such a public manner, inflicts a grave hurt upon the people of the local Catholic community," the diocese said in a statement yesterday afternoon.

The diocese is "deeply disappointed and saddened," the statement said.

Poole, the sacramental minister at Mount Sterling's St. Patrick Catholic Church, and Waibel, pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Winchester, won't be allowed to preside over church services this weekend, diocese officials said.

Another priest, the Rev. Charles Howell, was arrested in 1998 and charged with indecent exposure after an officer saw him masturbating in front of two other men, police records show.

Diocese officials say they knew about Howell's arrest, but did not tell parishioners at St. William Roman Catholic Church in London when they transferred him there in August 2001.

Yesterday, church officials would not discuss Howell's arrest, saying their attorney has advised them not to comment on that case because some of its details are included in sealed documents in a separate lawsuit.

In separate interviews Thursday, both Waibel and Poole confirmed the circumstances of their charges. Both questioned the Catholic Church's requirement of celibacy for priests.

Howell declined to comment Wednesday.

Diocesan administrator Robert H. Nieberding and two other priests will conduct a thorough investigation and will meet with Poole and Waibel within the next week, Shaughnessy said.

Shaughnessy said the two men will "have to address their commitment to their vow of celibacy and to continue to strive to fulfill that vow."

Lexington Diocese officials said yesterday that they're not aware of any other priests in their area who have faced similar charges. There are 50 active and retired diocesan priests.

Yesterday, Poole questioned the newsworthiness of the arrests. "These are misdemeanors, not felonies," he said. "It's a sex area, but it's certainly not abuse."

He also questioned the church's priesthood policy, saying, "I've always opposed celibacy."

Waibel, Poole and Howell were detained at Jacobson Park in separate undercover operations -- but in similar circumstances -- by the Lexington police department.

Poole, 66, was charged with disorderly conduct May 17, 2001, after an undercover officer spotted him masturbating at a urinal in the men's public restroom, according to an arrest report. Poole pleaded guilty and was fined $100 plus costs, court records show.

Yesterday, Shaughnessy said Poole also was arrested in a sting operation at Jacobson Park in 1990. Fayette District Court records from that year were not available.

According to Lexington police records, Waibel exposed himself outdoors Sept. 24, 1998. Charged with indecent exposure, he pleaded guilty to harassment and was given a 30-day suspended sentence, records show. As part of a plea agreement, he paid fines and court costs of $325.80 and was ordered to stay away from Lexington-Fayette County parks, records show.

Waibel, who initially denied the allegations when questioned by a reporter, later conceded that he'd pleaded guilty.

Waibel, 42, said he went cruising for a sex partner at Jacobson Park only once. "I guess I had heard that you could go there and have sex, get sex and so I went," he said.

In the interview Thursday, Waibel called celibacy "an outdated and outmoded way of life."

The incident in the park occurred after a man there offered to have sex, Waibel said. "I was nervous and scared, and by the time I exposed myself, he was gone." Moments later, police officers apprehended him, Waibel said.

He said the diocese never knew about it. "I just prayed that it would stay hidden and obviously it didn't."

The incident occurred a year after Waibel had stepped down as pastor of St. Mark Catholic Church in Richmond after a controversy over his participation in a gay-spirituality conference.

According to an arrest report, Howell, 40, was masturbating outdoors in front of two men May 21, 1998. Originally charged with indecent exposure, Howell pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct. He paid a fine and court costs totaling $162.50, court records show.

Howell declined to answer a reporter's questions this week. But he recently disclosed his record with parishioners after learning that the incident had been mentioned in the lawsuit, said parish council president David Bazler.

In a column in the church bulletin, Howell asked for forgiveness and predicted that "our own personal dyings from this shame" will eventually lead to resurrection.

Bazler said church members are "wrestling with a wide range of emotions." In a later letter, he said they included "shock, anger, distrust, confusion and profound loss" plus "empathy and support."

"While many have already found peace, others will struggle for some time to find the peace of Christ," he added.

Yesterday, parish council members from Mount Sterling and Winchester said they were unaware of their pastors' arrest records.

"This has never even been talked about in the parish at all," said Michele Lane, who attends church in Mount Sterling. "If anybody knew, they kept it hidden."

Maureen Brantigan of the Winchester parish questioned whether the conviction is relevant: "Why bring it up now? It was four years ago."

Eugene Kennedy, a former priest and retired psychology professor at Loyola University in Chicago, said it's hard to make concrete statements about priests' sexuality because Catholic bishops have opposed scholarly research on it.

But the issues aren't limited to priests, he said: "They're common to people of all religions and all professions."

 
 

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