Priest Named in Suit Tough to Track
By Denise Smith Amos
April 25, 2003
I've been been mystified about a Cincinnati woman's allegations this week that a priest at a Fort Mitchell orphanage sexually abused her as a teen during the early 1960s.
Cincinnati lawyer Stan Chesley says the woman became pregnant and that the priest arranged for her to have an abortion.
Those allegations are part of a lawsuit that Chesley hopes will become a class-action suit in Boone County. Dozens of people have stated that 21 priests in the Diocese of Covington abused them and that church officials covered it up.
This woman's story is notable for several reasons.
The lawsuit says she and the priest had a three-year affair, which Chesley said began when she was 13. The day before she was to leave the country to have an abortion, she and the priest had sex at a hotel near the airport, the suit states.
This case is unusual for another reason - the diocese said Tuesday that it had no record of the priest, a Rev. James Aloysius Brown.
Truth or fiction?
Tim Fitzgerald, a diocese spokesman and editor of its newspaper, the Messenger, said that at the time, no priest by that name was listed in the diocesan directory. Nor was the name in the newspaper's files of priests, ex-priests and deceased priests.
An official statement from the diocese also didn't mention the priest, which led some of us in the news media to wonder whether he existed.
Rev. Gerald L. Reinersman, second in charge at the Covington Diocese, wrote, "We are deeply saddened that individuals suffered abuse at the hands of some of our priests." Reinersman declined an interview.
But information about a Father Browne - with an e - began to trickle out Thursday morning.
Chesley's law firm is partly to blame for the confusion.
Chesley said Thursday that a clerical error resulted in the wrong first name being typed in the lawsuit. The priest's name is Joseph, not James, he said.
Chesley also said he spent five months investigating the abuse case. But it took people who knew the priest to call his firm to correct that error.
That isn't the only cloud over the facts.
It seems strange to me that even with the correct last name, diocesan officials "couldn't find" a mention of the priest.
It is true that Browne's last name - with or without an e - was missing from the usual places.
A Rev. Joseph Aloysius Browne was ordained in June 1956 and "left the priesthood" in 1970, Fitzgerald said Thursday.
But Fitzgerald's files on ex-priests contain nothing about Browne. Fitzgerald's files aren't the official archives of the diocese, though he relies on them as a spokesman.
Later in the day, Fitzgerald found more information. He said Browne had been an assistant director at Catholic Social Services in Covington, but the agency had no official records of him, said its director, Sister Joan Boberg.
Fitzgerald also said Browne was an assistant pastor at what is now St. Anthony parish in Taylor Mill and had been co-chair of the St. Vincent DePaul Society, which runs second-hand stores to help the poor.
Chesley will say only that Browne is now married and living in Canada.
Fitzgerald said he doesn't know why Browne left the church, nor if the church knew about the alleged activities.
We don't know where the priest is or what's in church records.
Even amid the mistakes and confusion, it's clear that Covington's Diocese should be more forthcoming. The diocese serves 89,000 Catholics in 14 counties.
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