Court Refuses to Reopen Sex Abuse Suit against Dioceses
Former Altar Boy Says Priest Fondled Him
By Frank E. Lockwood
Lexington Herald-Leader Staff Writer
June 11, 2005
The Kentucky Supreme Court this week declined to reopen a former Cathedral of Christ the King altar boy's sexual abuse lawsuit against the Catholic dioceses of Lexington and Covington.
The high court's order comes less than a week after the Lexington diocese announced that it had permanently suspended the alleged abuser, Rev. William J. Fedders, in accordance with the church's sex-abuse policies.
The diocese won't say what Fedders did to merit the lifetime ban from public ministry or how many people have accused him of sexual abuse. In past court appearances, the diocese had insisted that allegations against Fedders were "not substantiated."
Spokesmen for the Lexington and Covington dioceses yesterday declined to comment on the supreme court's decision.
Fedders also declined to discuss the allegations. "I've been told that I cannot talk with you. Thank you for calling," he said.
Will L. McGinnis III, the former altar boy who had sued the dioceses, said he was surprised by the ruling, which came a few days after the Covington diocese agreed to create a $120 million settlement fund to compensate sex abuse victims who have filed a class-action lawsuit against the church.
"It seems like they've settled everybody's case except mine," he said. It's unclear if the church will voluntarily allow McGinnis to join the class-action lawsuit.
In recent years, more than 350 people have sued the Catholic church in Kentucky, alleging that they were victimized by priests or other church workers. Most of them hired lawyers and collected money.
McGinnis, a 36-year-old Lexington taxi company owner, acted as his own attorney, but his June 2002 lawsuit failed "to state a claim upon which relief may be granted," Fayette Circuit Judge Thomas L. Clark ruled. Lawyers who later came to McGinnis' defense were unable to persuade the court of appeals or supreme court to revive the suit.
McGinnis was never allowed to question diocesan officials under oath about the alleged abuse. Nor was he allowed to tell a jury about the alleged abuse. In a 1994 letter to former Lexington Bishop J. Kendrick Williams, McGinnis claimed that Fedders gave him alcohol and pornography, and fondled him on three occasions when he was 14 years old.
Despite this week's legal setback, McGinnis hopes the church will one day write him a formal letter of apology and will tell him whether other youths say they were also abused by Fedders.
With the Supreme Court refusing to review the case, McGinnis has few legal remedies left.
Barring newly-discovered evidence or discovery of fraud, "Will's lawsuit's finished," said his attorney, Ann Oldfather.
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