Jury Awards $1.5 Million in Priest Sex Case
By Brian Krans
Quad-Cities Online [Davenport IA]
September 18, 2006
A former Davenport altar boy was awarded $1.5 million by a Scott County District Court Jury as compensation for alleged sexual abuse by a priest in the 1960s.
D. Michl Uhde, 56, alleged now-deceased Monsignor Thomas Feeney abused him for six years, starting when he was seven years old.
Attorneys for the Diocese of Davenport contended in a trial in which testimoney concluded las week that the statute of limitations to file the lawsuit expired 37 years ago and no damages should be awarded. The plaintiffs contend Mr. Uhde wasn't mentally fit to file the suit until recently.
During his closing arguments Friday afternoon, Craig Levien, Mr. Uhde's attorney, showed a blown-up photo of Mr. Uhde at 7 years old, when the abuse allegedly began. He contends the abuse lasted for six years.
"Michl Uhde's life has been a struggle. This is certainly the most difficult thing he's done in his life," Mr. Levien said.
Over the past week, Mr. Levien and attorney Pat Noaker presented testimony and evidence showing how the diocese covered up -- including having priests swear on Bibles -- acts of pedophilia by priests as far back as the 1950s. They showed no evidence, however, that the coverup involved Monsignor Feeney.
"The best I can do is start pulling apart the curtain to show you what happened behind closed doors," Mr. Levien said. "This man, this monster, was not being controlled.
"They should have known about Feeney, but instead they have a policy of secrecy and non-investigation," he continued.
Rand Wonio, an attorney representing the diocese, said no evidence was presented showing abuse by Monsignor Feeney or of a coverup.
That's a reason for the statute of limitations on lawsuits, he said. "How can we find the truth about what happened 40-plus years ago?" he asked. "We can't. It's been too long. Most of the people who knew anything have been dead for a long time."
Monsignor Feeney died in 1981 after resigning from the post of vicar general, the second highest seat in the diocese. It was that promotion that Mr. Levien called "the most chilling piece of evidence."
"I don't know why (he was promoted), but it was probably because he knew the secrets that only the people at the top knew," he said.
Mr. Wonio portrayed the lawsuit as nothing short of gold-digging. In 2002, Mr. Uhde filed for bankruptcy, something he used to show he was mentally fit to assert his legal rights. Then, in 2004, the diocese paid $9 million to settle with 37 men who claimed they, too, were abused by priests.
"Then, in 2005, there's a flood of memories about years and years of sexual abuse," Mr. Wonio said. "One has to wonder if the story grew and grew like Pinocchio's nose when there was a lot of money at stake."
As to Mr. Uhde's mental fitness, it became a battle of the experts.
Michael Taylor, a Des Moines psychiatrist, said Mr. Uhde should have remembered the years of abuse and would have been jogged by alleged abuse by Bishop Lawrence Soens while a student at St. Ambrose Seminary.
The diocese called Mr. Taylor Friday to dispute testimony from Wayne Sliwa, a Davenport psychologist.
Mr. Sliwa said Mr. Uhde had repressed the memories and they didn't come back until last year when someone called him regarding exposing what happened at the seminary.
On the witness stand, Mr. Uhde said he never remembered the abuse until recently.
The lawsuit is the first the diocese has taken to court following settlements of more than $10 million for claims of sexual abuse by clergy. The diocese faces bankruptcy because insurance no longer will pay for settlements. Another trial on a separate lawsuit is scheduled for next month.
Staff writer Brian Krans can be reached at (309) 786-6441 or firstname.lastname@example.org, Ext. 271.
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