Judge: Priests Must Comply with Depositions

By Paul A. Long
Cincinnati Post [Covington KY]
November 24, 2004

A special judge has ruled that several priests and former priests may not refuse to answer all questions in depositions from lawyers alleging a decades-long cover-up of sexual abuse in the Diocese of Covington.

The priests asked that their scheduled depositions be canceled because they intended to invoke their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. Their attorney, Bob Carran, said he did not want videotapes of the priests refusing to answer questions about child sex-abuse becoming public.

Carran said Kentucky has no statute of limitations on felony offenses, and several of the men he represents have been accused of -- although not criminally charged with -- molesting children.

He argued the men planned to refuse to answer any questions -- including their names -- because it could lead to information that could be used against them in criminal proceedings. Thus, he said, the depositions would give no useful information and should be canceled. But Special Judge John Potter of Louisville, who is presiding over the class-action lawsuit after former Boone Circuit Judge Jay Bamberger stepped down, said the men are mere witnesses. As such, he said, they do not have the unlimited right a defendant has to refuse to answer questions.

"Since (they) are not defendants in a criminal proceeding, they may not decline to testify, and the court should not order that their depositions be canceled," Potter wrote in a three-page order.

"Similarly, since a witness can assert the privilege only as to a particular question, and since some questions may incriminate the witness and others may not, (they) are not entitled to have questioning cease as soon as they first assert the privilege."

Carran's clients include a suspended priest, Father John Goeke, and a former priest, Louis Holtz. Both have been accused of abusing children, although Holtz has never been charged.

Charges against Goeke were dropped in 1995, although in 1997 the diocese settled a lawsuit filed against him by a woman who said he took advantage of her while she sought marriage counseling.

"We very much appreciate the court's consideration of our motion," Carran said. A number of attorneys -- including Stan Chesley and Robert Steinberg of Cincinnati and Ann Oldfather of Louisville -- filed the lawsuit in Boone County, alleging a 50-year cover-up by the diocese of sexual abuse by its priests and other workers. The attorneys claim to represent more than 100 victims, and say dozens of priests were abusers.

While Bamberger was overseeing the case, he ordered it to proceed as a class-action lawsuit, the first of its kind in the nation.


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