Diocese to Abuse Victims: Tell Church
By Paul A. Long
April 23, 2003
The Catholic Diocese in Covington, responding to a potential class-action lawsuit that renews allegations of years of sexual abuse and misconduct by priests, issued a statement Tuesday urging victims to bring their complaints to the church instead of the courts.
"Many complaints have been resolved through an honest dialogue with church officials, and we encourage anyone who has suffered abuse to choose that path," said Father Gerald Reinersman, who as chancellor is the diocese's second highest-ranking official.
"Other victims have chosen to pursue lawsuits. While choosing a lawsuit does not lessen the hurt suffered, these complaints unfortunately must be resolved through the civil courts, and we must let the court process work."
The unusual statement -- in most cases, the church declines to comment on lawsuits against it -- was made in response to an amended lawsuit filed Tuesday in Boone Circuit Court.
The lawsuit says at least 21 priests abused more than 150 people since the mid-1950s. It gives new details about an allegation that a priest, after getting a woman pregnant in the mid-1960s, arranged for her to fly out of the country to have an abortion, then illegal in the United States.
But Sue Archibald, president of a victims' group in Louisville, said the statement shows that the church still is trying to blame all the actions on a few wayward priests, instead of acknowledging that bishops and other church officials share responsibility for allowing the abuse to continue.
She said many victims no longer trust the church to solve their problems.
"A lot of victims have approached the church, and they felt their concerns were shut down or minimized," said Archibald, president of The Linkup, a national organization with a chapter in Kentucky.
"They (church officials) have lost their credibility in fixing the problem themselves. -- If the church is left to itself to change the system, most people feel it's not going to happen. They've had years to change, and they haven't."
She said lawsuits help the victims shift to the church the guilt and fear they feel after being abused. And the monetary damages they might win send a powerful message to the church, she said.
But the Covington Diocese said it would response with "compassion and respect for the dignity of those who come forward."
"We are deeply saddened that individuals suffered abuse at the hands of some of our priests," Reinersman said.
Bishop Roger Foys is out of town and not available for comment. But diocesan spokesman Tim Fitzgerald said he was consulted on and approved of the statement.
Fitzgerald said he could not comment beyond the statement.
The amended complaint filed Tuesday gives pseudonyms for three new plaintiffs, saying they all are well known in the Greater Cincinnati area.
The lawsuit is one that Cincinnati attorney Stan Chesley is fighting to keep in Boone County and wants to get certified as a class action. The diocese wants the lawsuit moved to Kenton County, and opposes class-action status.
Chesley previously had revealed in court the accusation that a priest had paid for a woman's abortion, but he gave no details. The new filing provides additional information.
It says between 1963 and 1966, the Rev. James Aloysius Brown was a counselor at the Diocesan Children's Home in Fort Mitchell, and a woman identified only as Jane Doe was a resident of the home. Brown bought her alcohol and seduced her in a room at the home, the lawsuit maintains. Later, it says, the two had intercourse at a number of locations, including hotels and automobiles.
When Jane Doe -- the lawsuit does not say how old she was -- became pregnant, "Father Brown arranged for an abortion to be performed on (her) outside the United States," the lawsuit says. It says Brown stayed with her in a hotel, then traveled with her to an unnamed country where the abortion was performed.
The diocese has no record of a Father Brown during that period, Fitzgerald said. The Diocese of Lexington, which was split from the Covington Diocese in 1988, also doesn't have any information on him, said a spokesman.
The lawsuit names two other men -- the Rev. Paul Ciagnetti, who is deceased, and former priest Louis Holtz -- as being abusers. Both men have been named in previous lawsuits.
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