Four Men Who Say Priests Molested Them Sue Detroit Archdiocese

By David N. Goodman
The Associated Press, carried in [Detroit MI]
May 13, 2004

DETROIT (AP) -- Four men backed by a national victims rights group sued the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit on Wednesday, saying the church conspired to cover up their sexual abuse by priests as children decades ago.

The plaintiffs are seeking class-action status for the lawsuit filed in Wayne County Circuit Court.

"We are here today because of the courageous stand that several people have taken to protect the children of the Archdiocese of Detroit," Barbara Blaine, founder of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said at a news conference outside the courthouse.

"For decades, the Archdiocese of Detroit has transferred known child molesters from one parish to another," endangering hundreds of thousands of children, Blaine said. "Today, we say, `No more silence."'

Archdiocese spokesman Ned McGrath said it had not yet seen a copy of the suit. He defended the church's handling of complaints of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy.

"The Detroit archdiocese signed a voluntary agreement with the prosecutors in southeast Michigan two years ago," McGrath said. "According to civil authorities, that reporting process has worked and has worked well."

Lead plaintiff Timothy Hassett, 41, of Kalamazoo said his priest molested him while Hassett was an altar boy at St. Mary's of Redford in Detroit.

Hassett said the Rev. C. Richard Kelly began abusing him when he was in the third grade at St. Mary's School in 1971. He said Kelly took him out of class and molested him in the church rectory.

Hassett said he did not tell people about the abuse and said it contributed to his abuse of alcohol and drugs beginning in sixth grade.

"I spent the better part of my life trying to hide this from myself," he said. "I was too embarrassed and confused to tell anybody."

The archdiocese placed Kelly on leave Feb. 26 from St. Thomas a'Becket Parish in Canton, citing an allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor "dating back to the early years of his ministry."

A message was left for Kelly at St. Thomas a'Becket on Wednesday afternoon seeking comment.

Plaintiff John Fruciano said the Rev. Robert Burkholder molested him while he was a parishioner at St. Mary's Church in Wayne starting in 1950, when he was 10.

In the 1990s, Burkholder admitted to Catholic officials that he had molested nearly two dozen boys during his career. He spent 30 days in jail in 2002 for sexual misconduct in the 1980s.

Plaintiff William Johnson said the Rev. Thomas Physician molested him when Johnson was a parishioner at Precious Blood Church in Detroit from 1970 to 1973. Johnson was 14 to 17 at the time.

The archdiocese placed Physician, by then retired, on an administrative leave of absence Jan. 3.

A fourth plaintiff, identified only as "John Doe," said a priest molested him while he was an altar boy at St. Mary's Church in Milford in 1960-62, when he was 10 to 12 years old. The priest died in 1999.

The lawsuit lists the priests as coconspirators but only seeks damages from the archdiocese, which it says "failed to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of these children and to prevent future acts of sexual abuse."

"From at least the 1950s," the suit says, the archdiocese and the priests "engaged in or joined in a conspiracy to conceal the criminal conduct ... to evade criminal and/or civil prosecution and liability."

The filing of the lawsuit came a week after a prison inmate sued the archdiocese of Detroit and Santa Fe, N.M., the Diocese of Lansing and several Catholic leaders, saying they condoned sexual abuse by an ex-priest who the man says molested him decades ago.

That lawsuit announced last Tuesday by attorneys for Patrick Antos, 43, also names the former priest, Jason Sigler, as a defendant.


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