Diocese Strips Accused Priest of All Duties
Former Altar Boy Claimed Abuse; Community Not Told of Discipline
By Frank E. Lockwood
June 3, 2005
A priest accused of abusing a Cathedral of Christ the King altar boy in the 1980s has been permanently stripped of his duties, but the Lexington diocese has not abandoned legal efforts to prevent the priest's alleged victim from receiving any financial compensation.
The diocese, which had insisted for the past six months that no decision had been made in the case of the Rev. William J. Fedders, revealed the discipline in a press release yesterday after a Herald-Leader reporter told them he was doing a story on the Fedders case.
Fedders has been removed "from all active public ministry, including the public celebration of the Mass and the Sacraments, and prohibited from publicly presenting himself as a Catholic priest and wearing clerical garb," the statement said. Fedders, 66, is living "a life of prayer and penance" and will continue to receive financial help from the diocese.
The suspension was handed down before the end of September, though the diocese did not give a specific date yesterday. Parishioners were never informed of Bishop Ronald Gainer's decision and a diocesan spokesman had denied, in November and in May interviews with Herald-Leader reporters, that any decision had been reached regarding Fedders' status.
The revelation comes as the state supreme court is reviewing a sex-abuse lawsuit filed by Fedders' alleged victim.
David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, called the diocese's failure to inform the community a "gross and inexcusable violation" of the people's trust.
The nation's Catholic bishops "made emphatic, repeated strong promises to do better and to be more honest and compassionate," the national victims-rights advocate said. "This is a clear sign that those promises are just hollow."
Officials yesterday would not say what Fedders had done to merit a lifetime suspension, but the diocese said the penalties were "in accordance with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" -- the church's policy on sexual abuse. Yesterday, diocesan spokesman Tom Shaughnessy said the church would make no further comment about the matter. Gainer and Fedders also declined to comment.
The priest's accuser, Lexington taxi company owner Will L. McGinnis III, was somber after hearing about Fedders' removal. "There's no winners in this type of situation. Everybody's lost," he said. "Hopefully, no more children will be sexually abused. That would be a victory right there."
McGinnis, 36, a former mayoral candidate and congressional candidate, as well as a former stripper, has made allegations against Fedders for more than a decade.
In the mid-1990s, he told then-bishop J. Kendrick Williams that Fedders had abused him. In a four-page letter, he alleged that Fedders had groomed him beginning in the seventh grade, heaping praise on him, buying him Christmas gifts and giving him small jobs to make extra money. Later, McGinnis wrote, Fedders started giving him beer and adult magazines. Eventually, Fedders was having him disrobe and was touching his genitals.
In the letter, McGinnis says he will settle out of court for $200,000 -- half from Fedders, half from the church.
After an investigation, the diocese said that the allegations could not be substantiated but offered to provide McGinnis with counseling.
McGinnis didn't notify police.
Fedders remained a priest in good standing until June 3, 2002, when McGinnis filed suit in Fayette Circuit Court. At the time, the diocese placed Fedders on temporary suspension.
While they investigated, attorneys for the Covington and Lexington dioceses worked to get the suit dismissed, arguing that the statute of limitations had run out. McGinnis, who represented himself, saw his suit tossed out in a matter of weeks. In legal documents and in court, the diocese repeatedly said that McGinnis' claims had been investigated and were "not substantiated."
Judge Thomas L. Clark ruled that McGinnis' amateur legal pleadings "are insufficient and fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted."
The diocese was winning in court, but church officials continued to investigate Fedders. By January 2004 they had ordered him to do "prayer and penance" while they decided his fate.
After reviewing Fedders' case and consulting with moral theologians, Bishop Gainer made the priest's removal permanent -- a decision he shared with his sex-abuse policy review board in September.
The diocese announced Gainer's decision yesterday only after the Herald-Leader began working on a story about the three-year-long investigation of Fedders and requested the names of the review board's members.
Asked why he had given reporters incorrect answers about Fedders' status, Shaughnessy pointed to McGinnis' Supreme Court appeal -- which the court may or may not hear.
"The factor that explains it is that we were being cautious with respect to this discretionary review. So that was the explanation," Shaughnessy said.
Yesterday, McGinnis' attorney, Ann Oldfather, accused the church of "actively causing a miscarriage of justice" by suppressing the truth about Fedders. "They absolutely need to come clean and they need to do right by Will," she said.
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