Lawsuit Alleging Priest Abuse Ongoing: Case 'Moving at a Very Slow Pace'

By Owen Covington
Messenger-Inquirer (Owensboro, Kentucky)
July 19, 2006

Jul. 19—Although there has been no local activity for nearly two years in a wrongful death lawsuit brought against the local Catholic diocese and three of its priests, the case is still moving forward toward resolution, attorneys for both sides said Tuesday.

Since portions of the lawsuit brought by the estate of former Owensboro resident Karen Roby were transferred to Daviess County in August 2004, only a handful of documents have been added to the case file, with no additions since September 2004.

The lawsuit alleges Roby, who shot herself in a Louisville park in May 2003, was sexually abused from 1962 through 1970 by three priests — the Revs. Delma Clemons, Richard Powers and Robert Willett.

Roby was a parishioner and student at SS. Joseph & Paul Catholic Church in Owensboro, where the abuse is alleged to have occurred.

Louisville attorney Don Cox, who is representing Roby's estate, said Tuesday that most of the progress on the case has been in Jefferson County, where the lawsuit originated.

"We've been fighting up here nearly for a year to get a psychological evaluation on one of the priests," Cox said. "It's all being done up here."

An attorney from Cox's firm appeared in Daviess Circuit Court before Henry A. "Mac" Griffin III on Monday to argue against the case being dismissed for lack of prosecution.

As a housekeeping practice, the court clerk issues a "notice to dismiss" if there has been no activity in a case for more than a year. Members of either party must appear in court to explain why the case should continue moving forward.

Griffin ruled that the case is still valid and should continue.

Six counts from the original complaint that address Roby's alleged abuse while she was in Owensboro were transferred to Daviess County by Jefferson Circuit Judge A.C. McKay Chauvin in August 2004 at the request of the defense.

Roby's estate has accused the diocese of contributing to Roby's abuse by failing to properly train and supervise the three priests, for continuing to keep the men as employees and for failing to inform parents of the abuse.

Powers is the pastor at St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Church in Sorgho and has denied the allegations made in the lawsuit. Clemons, who was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church until 1995, has been on administrative leave since the suit was filed. Willett is dead.

The four counts that remain in Jefferson County Circuit Court relate to a confidential settlement offered by the diocese in 1999 when Roby was living in Louisville, in which she was paid $41,000. According to the lawsuit, the money was returned following Roby's death.

In those portions, the estate alleges that the release Roby signed as a part of the settlement was unenforceable and amounted to fraud. The complaint also accuses the diocese of intentionally inflicting emotional distress for continuing to contact Roby.

Marvin Nunley, an attorney for the diocese, said the case is still working through depositions of those believed to be involved, with more depositions coming next month.

"It's been moving at a very slow pace," Nunley said.

A trial date has not been set in the matter, and both attorneys said there is much more pre-trial preparation that must be done before the two sides can reach a resolution.


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