Diocese Reports Old Abuse Complaint
Covington, Lexington Blame Each Other for Delay
By Frank E. Lockwood
Lexington Herald Leader (Kentucky)
January 17, 2004
Lexington's Roman Catholic diocese yesterday notified law enforcement officials about an allegation of sexual abuse that had been lodged against one of its priests last year.
Under the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' mandatory national policy, dioceses are required to "report an allegation of sexual abuse of a person who is a minor to the public authorities."
But neither the Lexington nor the Covington diocese informed law enforcement officials about the allegation against the Rev. William G. Poole when they learned of it last year, spokesmen from both dioceses said.
Poole, 68, was reinstated last month as a priest in good standing by the Lexington diocese, which suspended him in 2002 after what it termed his "scandalous behavior" in Jacobson Park.
On Thursday, Lexington Bishop Ronald Gainer said his diocese wasn't responsible for reporting the allegation because of when the abuse allegedly occurred.
Gainer's diocese, which covers the Lexington area and Eastern Kentucky, was part of the Covington diocese before 1988. The complaint claims abuse occurred in 1972.
Yesterday, Covington spokesman Tim Fitzgerald said his diocese isn't at fault.
"Father Poole is a priest of the Diocese of Lexington, and therefore it was and remains their responsibility to report him to the proper authorities," he added.
After the two dioceses consulted this week, Lexington reported the allegation. Lexington diocesan spokesman Tom Shaughnessy attributed the omission to "miscommunication."
"We're not going to finger-point at another diocese. We are simply going to report this and any future allegation we receive as a matter of course and thereby avoid any confusion," he said. Shaughnessy added that the diocese will review its records to make sure it has reported all other past allegations.
In an e-mail yesterday, Poole had another view, insisting that civil authorities had already been informed before the Lexington diocese made any calls.
"The vicar general of the Covington Diocese notified the authorities there of the accusation," he wrote. Poole said he would have welcomed a police investigation.
Fitzgerald said there is no record of any call and that the vicar general, the Rev. Gerald Reinersman, does not think a call was made.
An audit commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and released Jan. 6 noted that the Lexington diocese previously hadn't reported sex-abuse allegations against former Lexington Bishop J. Kendrick Williams or former Morehead pastor Bill Fedders.
The audit recommended that Lexington inform authorities about those cases, which came to light in lawsuits filed in 2002. The diocese quickly complied.
Poole was accused last year of abusing a 15-year-old boy while serving in Martin (Floyd County) in 1972, a Lexington diocesan spokesman said.
The priest denies that he ever abused anyone. Asked this week why the allegation was made, he said, "Money."
The Covington diocese reviewed the allegation and paid the accuser a settlement last year, say victims advocates who have spoken with the man.
Fitzgerald, the Covington spokesman, said his diocese believed the accusation was "credible enough to support a request for financial assistance."
But in October, the Lexington board that reviews sex abuse allegations decided they were "not credible," Lexington Bishop Gainer said. Gainer said the diocese had an investigator examine the allegation, but that the accuser had refused to cooperate.
Poole was suspended in September 2002 after diocesan officials learned that an undercover officer in May 2001 had spotted him masturbating at a urinal in Lexington's Jacobson Park. According to court records, Poole pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and was fined $100 plus court costs.
In 1990, Poole was arrested during a prostitution sting in Jacobson Park, the diocese said.
Gainer ended Poole's suspension on Dec. 24, 2003. Poole, who is retired from full-time ministry, now will be able to substitute in parishes when the regular priest is unavailable.
In an e-mail yesterday, Poole criticized the Covington diocese's handling of his case. He accused the diocese of not investigating the claims against him before reaching a settlement.
"They made no attempt to verify any elements of his story. In fact, they never contacted me about the accusation until weeks after they issued the check," Poole wrote.
Fitzgerald, the Covington spokesman, defended the diocese's handling of the matter and said an investigation was conducted. "There was contact with the accuser and others over the course of months," he added.
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