Police Might Pursue '70s Abuse Case
Authorities Say Diocese Failed to Tell That It Had Evidence Priest Abused Girl
By Frank E. Lockwood
Herald-Leader [Lexington KY]
April 9, 2006
Although Lexington's Catholic diocese received credible evidence in 2003 that a former priest had sexually and psychologically abused a 13-year-old child in Ashland in the late 1970s, the information was never forwarded to police, authorities say.
Diocesan spokesman Tom Shaughnessy says the church wrote Commonwealth's attorney Stewart Schneider in January 2004 and offered to cooperate, but got no response.
Ashland Police Capt. Don Petrella, to whom Schneider forwarded the letter, says the letter indicated only that a civil lawsuit had been filed in Northern Kentucky against former Ashland priest Steve Gallenstein, but the letter did not allege that the priest had committed any crimes.
If the church has evidence that a child was sexually abused in his city, Petrella says his department wants to see it.
Yesterday, Petrella faxed a letter to former Diocesan Chancellor Jim Paris requesting that the diocese supply him with any evidence it has against Gallenstein.
"If the event in question constitutes the commission of a felony, it is possible that this crime could still be pursued even if it was more than 20 years ago, as there is no statute of limitations on felonies in the state of Kentucky," the police captain wrote.
The diocese has agreed to work with Ashland-area officials.
"Should they be interested in anything, they will have our full cooperation," Shaughnessy said Thursday.
Gallenstein could not be reached for comment.
Petrella says the diocese should have revealed the evidence earlier.
"I would think that at the very least they would have a moral obligation, even if they don't have a legal obligation to report it," Petrella said. "It should be in everybody's interest to protect children."
Diocesan officials declined to release a full copy of the letter from then-Chancellor Jim Paris to Schneider. But they agreed to read excerpts to a reporter.
Shaughnessy says Paris' letter informed Schneider that a lawsuit had been filed and that "allegations contained in the suit mention an inappropriate relationship with a young lady, now an adult, while she was a 15-year-old student at Holy Family School in Ashland around 1981 or 1982."
Court and church documents say, however, the victim was 13 when the abuse began sometime in the 1970s.
In the church's 2004 letter, Paris also offered to assist law enforcement, Shaughnessy said.
"In regards to this particular matter, involving Reverend Steve Gallenstein, the Diocese of Lexington pledges its full cooperation to your office should you decide to investigate or if charges are filed by a victim or if you should get any allegations against clergy or employees in the future," Paris reportedly wrote.
The chancellor "and the diocese by extension pledged cooperation with whatever investigation the Boyd County (commonwealth's) attorney would choose to engage in," Shaughnessy said. The diocese "received no follow-up to that letter whatsoever."
If the diocese had evidence that a child had been sexually abused, Schneider said, they should have forwarded it to the Ashland Police Department.
"I think it's incumbent on all of us to notify authorities when we have evidence a crime has occurred," he said.
If the church had reported the possible sexual abuse of a 13-year-old to authorities, "We would have been all over it like spots on dice," he said.
A church-sponsored report, released in January 2004, encouraged the Lexington diocese to report sex-abuse allegations to police.
Since then, diocesan officials say, they have notified authorities.
But in Gallenstein's case, Ashland law enforcement officials say, the diocese left out key information -- including the fact that it possessed what the diocese calls "incontrovertible evidence" against the priest. The letter mentioned no "sex abuse" -- only an "improper relationship."
Schneider says the letter from the diocese did not "contain specifics of any offense occurring in Boyd County."
The lawsuit claims Gallenstein abused the child for four years and then stalked her for a decade.
The abuse was reported to then-Covington Bishop William Hughes years ago, the court document says. Soon thereafter, Hughes appointed Gallenstein as principal of the victim's school.
Despite the allegations, Gallenstein remained in good standing, serving parishes in Ravenna, Pikeville, Middlesboro, Morehead, Salyersville and Frankfort.
Lexington Bishop Ronald Gainer permanently removed Gallenstein from public ministry in 2003. But the diocese did not publicly announce the results of its investigation until last month, after a Herald-Leader reporter's inquiries.
Reach Frank Lockwood at (859) 231-3211 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3211, or flockwood@ herald-leader.com.
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