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  Suit against Church Dealt Setback

By Sheila Burke
The Tennessean [Nashville TN]
March 16, 2005

Judge keeps out data on other pedophile priests

Two men who say they were molested by a former priest were dealt a setback yesterday in their $68 million lawsuit against the Catholic Diocese of Nashville when a judge ruled they were not entitled to information about pedophile priests other than their abuser.

The plaintiffs, who are known in court papers only as John Doe 1 and John Doe 2, were hoping to show a pattern of abuse by priests and recklessness on the part of church officials. A lawyer for the church called the request a "witch hunt."

But Davidson County Circuit Judge Walter Kurtz ruled that the plaintiffs would be limited to information maintained by the diocese about former Nashville priest Edward McKeown, who is serving a 25-year prison sentence for abusing one of the victims.

The decision was protested sharply by one of the plaintiff's attorneys, who complained that the ruling greatly restricted the victims' case.

"The problem is how they handled other pedophiles is probative of their recklessness," lawyer John Day told the judge.

McKeown, a longtime priest in Nashville, was forced to leave the priesthood in 1989, after he admitted molesting several boys.

The men filed suit, saying that McKeown abused them between 1995 and 1999, when they were boys and living in the same mobile home park as the former priest. They accused the church of "outrageous conduct" for failing to take action or warn the community, despite knowing of McKeown's admitted molestations.

The plaintiffs said the church also worked to cover up the priest's prior conduct.

Church officials argued they should not be held responsible for conduct that occurred long after McKeown left the diocese.

Judge Kurtz agreed with the church and dismissed the lawsuit in June 2001. The decision was upheld by the state Court of Appeals.

In January, the Tennessee Supreme Court overturned the rulings, saying that a jury should consider whether to hold the diocese responsible, even through church officials had no direct knowledge that McKeown was molesting these boys in particular.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs also had asked for the identities of two other priests who were the homosexual lovers of a third priest, Franklin T. Richards. The information was gleaned during Richards' deposition, according to the discussion in open court yesterday.

Metro police said Richards had admitted to molesting several boys when he was a priest here but was never arrested because the statute of limitations had run out.

The plaintiff's lawyers said they needed the names to determine whether the two former lovers had been involved in helping to cover up the conduct of fellow priests. The attorneys also argued they wanted to know who the two priests are in case they are called to testify for the diocese during the upcoming trial.

Kurtz, however, said he was inclined not to introduce the names of the two lovers, but he wanted to know who they were.

Another hearing in the case is scheduled for April 8.

Virtually all records in the case have been sealed, and The Tennessean has asked Kurtz to make the case file public. Those records include information about former priest Ron Dickman, who has been the subject of news articles examining his past as a member of the diocese.

Dickman, who also has left the priesthood and moved out of state, has never been charged with a crime.

During a hearing on the newspaper's motion yesterday, church officials said they did not object to making the case file public, so long as victims' names were protected.

"We've got nothing to hide," said Thomas Mink, a lawyer representing the church. "We don't want to litigate in secret."

But a lawyer representing Dickman asked Kurtz that information on his client be kept from the media. The judge said he would rule on the Dickman motion at the next hearing

 
 

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