Diocese Court Records Opened
Letters Discuss Priest's 'Sexual Misconduct'
By Frank E. Lockwood
Lexington Herald-Leader [Kentucky]
March 4, 2006
Former Covington Bishop Richard H. Ackerman was warned that a Lexington priest was a pedophile who preyed on boys, but the bishop did nothing to warn parishioners that they had a predator in their midst, according to court records unsealed yesterday.
Horrified parents urged church officials to stop the Rev. John B. Modica, assistant pastor at Mary Queen of the Holy Rosary from 1974 to 1978, but they were ignored.
Documents in a sex abuse lawsuit against the Diocese of Covington portray an out-of-control priest and a church hierarchy that backed him anyway. The internal church records, hidden from view for decades, were made public yesterday.
The Herald-Leader and one of Modica's alleged victims, Sam Greywolf of Lexington, had asked Circuit Court Judge Mary Noble to unseal the records. This week, the diocese said it would no longer object to unsealing them. Diocesan attorney Carrie Huff could not be reached for comment.
Modica, who is now retired and lives in Northern Kentucky, declined to answer questions.
Greywolf is one of thousands of Americans who have sued the Catholic Church, alleging they were victims of sexual abuse.
The Covington diocese, which included Lexington until 1988, has agreed to settle a separate class-action lawsuit for up to $85 million. More than 350 people are seeking restitution. The diocese has previously settled many other claims. In the Lexington area alone, about 30 plaintiffs received a total of about $5.1 million.
Greywolf, 48, filed suit with a large group of other victims in 2002. He was the only one who did not reach a settlement with the diocese.
Greywolf's lawyer welcomed the diocese's decision. "This is what they should have done to begin with," said attorney Chuck Arnold.
The documents show how hard the church worked to conceal the truth from its own members, Greywolf said. "The church has been doing a cover-up for quite a long time," he added.
Court records show that the church was repeatedly warned about Modica. In a June 17, 1975, letter to Ackerman, the former bishop who died in 1992, Mary Queen of the Holy Rosary pastor Leonard Nienaber wrote: "Last Tuesday Father Modica did 'something' with a 12 year old boy. The mother cannot get the boy to tell everything yet. An older boy in the family may get him to talk. This older boy was a bit vehement with me because (another priest) had 'attacked' him a few years ago. It seems to me that I heard that Fr. Modica had trouble with boys in Maysville and was another reason for leaving."
Nienaber, who himself was later convicted on 10 counts of child sex abuse, assured Ackerman that Modica's misconduct was being kept "quiet and will cause no public scandal."
In a Dec. 13, 1978, letter, Nienaber warned that Modica had smuggled marijuana eight times to one inmate at the Kentucky State Reformatory in La Grange and was writing "homosexual letters" to another convict. Plus, an altar boy had complained about Modica's sexual advances. "I had a difficult time with those parents who insisted that I have (Modica) removed," Nienaber wrote.
In court papers, Greywolf says Modica gave him wine and marijuana and then raped him in the fall of 1974.
Diocesan officials finally sent Modica to Jemez Springs, N.M., in Jan. 1979 "to get treatment for sexual misconduct" -- but only after Modica was caught smuggling marijuana into the state penitentiary. In a letter, Ackerman asked the judge handling Modica's case to allow the priest to travel to New Mexico for treatment because "it is not possible to find any place in Kentucky which would offer the rehabilitation that this unhappy priest requires."
The facility helps priests "who, for one reason or another, have failed in their ministry," Ackerman wrote. Ackerman did not tell the judge that children had been victimized or that Modica was being sent there to receive treatment for sexual misconduct.
Despite Modica's history of sexual misconduct and drug smuggling, Ackerman gave him high marks in a Jan. 23, 1979, letter to another church official. Conceding that Modica at times exhibits "extremely bad judgment," Ackerman added, "Father Modica has been a good priest and enjoys the esteem of the clergy of our Diocese."
Years later, with Nienaber's arrest imminent, the diocese tried to figure out how many lives Nienaber's colleague had damaged.
An April 14, 1993, unsigned church memo (three days before Nienaber's arrest) says Modica "was involved sexually with a young man in Maysville" and "admits to being involved with one other person in Maysville" but "has no recollection of the incidences in Lexington." The document, stamped "confidential," was apparently written by then-diocesan chancellor Father Roger Kriege, Greywolf says in court filings.
"I asked him how many young men he had been involved with?" the memo states. "I asked 5, or 10 or 20. I said I needed to know how many victims there were out there that may surface. He then said that almost all of his victims were with hustlers. He paid for sex. He said he was not involved with youngsters in the parish.
"I am not sure I am getting the total truth here," the memo writer added, underlining the last five words for emphasis.
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