Priest Who Faced Sex Charges Is Reinstated
Lexington Diocese Rejects Allegation He Abused a Boy
By Frank E. Lockwood
Lexington Herald Leader (Kentucky)
January 16, 2004
A Roman Catholic priest who was twice charged with sex-related offenses at Jacobson Park has been reinstated by the Lexington diocese, despite a recent allegation that he sexually abused a boy in Eastern Kentucky in the early 1970s.
A diocesan committee in Lexington that reviews allegations of sexual abuse decided the new claim against the Rev. William G. Poole was "not credible," Bishop Ronald Gainer said. But a separate investigation, conducted by a neighboring diocese, resulted in a six-figure settlement with Poole's accuser last year, said two victims' advocates, who expressed outrage over the reinstatement.
A spokesman for the Covington diocese confirmed yesterday that it had paid Poole's accuser, but would not discuss the size of the settlement.
"The diocese of Covington believed the individual's allegations to be credible enough to support a request for financial assistance," said diocesan spokesman Tim Fitzgerald.
He declined to answer any questions about the nature of the allegations, the terms of the settlement or the reason why the dioceses of Lexington and Covington disagree about the accuser's credibility.
Lexington officials also had no explanation for the differing outcomes.
But Gainer said he is convinced that Poole was falsely accused and that he poses no threat to young parishioners.
"If I thought that there was a risk to children from William Poole, I would not have restored his faculties at all," Gainer said.
Victims' advocates blasted Gainer's decision. They criticized the diocese for not revealing the accusations and for not reporting them to law enforcement authorities.
"There can be no clearer proof that their promises of so-called reform are hollow," said David Clohessy, director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), a nationwide victims-rights organization. "This is just adding insult to already horrific injury."
Lexington SNAP leader Kay Montgomery, who says she was abused by a priest and is suing the diocese, said Poole shouldn't have been reinstated.
"Is this the type of person you want serving you the body and blood of Christ? It makes me sick to think about it," she said.
The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, a nationwide policy passed overwhelmingly by the nation's Roman Catholic bishops in 2002, requires dioceses to let civil authorities know when they learn about sexual-abuse allegations. But Lexington diocesan officials said yesterday that they never reported the claim, suggesting it was Covington's obligation to let officials know.
Lexington diocesan officials said late last night that they will check with the Covington diocese to see whether authorities were told. If law enforcement hasn't been told yet, the Lexington diocese will do it, spokesman Tom Shaughnessy said.
Both the Covington and Lexington dioceses conducted separate reviews of the claim, which Shaughnessy said involved a 15-year-old, because the alleged abuse occurred in about 1972 when Eastern Kentucky and the Lexington area were part of the Covington diocese. At the time, Poole was a mission administrator at St. Juliana Church in Martin. Since it was formed in 1988, the Lexington diocese has been responsible for supervising Poole.
Officials with the Lexington diocese said their investigator attempted to interview Poole's accuser, but he would not cooperate.
Contacted Wednesday, Poole said questions about his case should be directed to the dioceses of Lexington and Covington. Poole, a priest for four decades in Lexington and Eastern Kentucky, denied ever abusing anyone. He said the allegations were "completely" untrue and said money was motivating his accuser.
Poole was serving as a sacramental minister at St. Patrick parish in Mount Sterling in September 2002 when he was suspended from public ministry.
Gainer said he believes Poole's 15-month suspension was sufficient, and he noted that Poole's past sex-related offenses did not involve minors.
Poole was charged with disorderly conduct on May 17, 2001, after an undercover officer spotted him masturbating at a urinal in a public restroom, according to an arrest report. He pleaded guilty and was fined $100 plus court costs, court records show.
The priest was also arrested in 1990 during a prostitution sting at Jacobson Park, the diocese said. Fayette District Court records from that year were not available.
Poole, one of three priests who has paid fines after being caught in police stings at Jacobson Park, retired from the ministry at the time of his Sept. 2002 suspension.
Lexington's bishop lifted the suspension on Dec. 24 and Poole is now "a priest in good standing," a diocesan spokesman said. Poole will not be "a pastor of souls," Gainer said, but will substitute in parishes when the regular priest is sick or on vacation.
Gainer said he believes Poole won't commit any more sex-related offenses.
"Father Poole is receiving professional help, and I've had two serious conversations with him about the obligations regarding his lifestyle, and I do trust that he will make every effort to live a life in accord with his priestly duties," Gainer said.
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