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  Lexington Priest Gets a Year in Jail on Abuse Charges

By Jennifer Hewlett
Lexington Herald-Leader
May 21, 2010

http://www.kentucky.com/2010/05/21/1274994/lexington-priest-gets-a-year-in.html

The Rev. Joseph Muench, the former pastor of Mary Queen of the Holy Rosary Parish in Lexington who was criminally charged in a sex-abuse case last fall, is to begin a one-year stint in jail on Monday.

Muench was sentenced Friday to a year in jail on an amended charge of first-degree unlawful imprisonment, which is a felony, and to a year in jail on an amended charge of first-degree criminal attempt to commit sexual abuse, a misdemeanor. The sentences, handed down in Franklin Circuit Court, are to run concurrently.

Muench, 55, was indicted in October on two counts of first-degree sexual abuse. Had he been found guilty of those original felony charges, he could have received up to 10 years in prison. But he entered an Alford plea to the amended charges in March. In an Alford plea, a defendant does not admit guilt but acknowledges that enough evidence exists for judge or a jury to find the defendant guilty.

Muench was accused of sexually abusing two teenagers one over 18, the other 16 in the 1980s.

A third alleged victim didn't want to participate in the case, Franklin County Commonwealth's Attorney Larry Cleveland said.

Cleveland said just after Muench's Alford plea that he was concerned that a trial would do more harm than good for the victims. He said that trying to prosecute the defendant while protecting the victims was like walking a tightrope.

"I trust that the judge's sentence is a just response to the charges that have been brought forward," said Bishop Ronald W. Gainer of the Roman Catholic Church's Lexington diocese. "This continues to be a sad and difficult time for the Catholic Church. As bishop, I am saddened and shamed by the ongoing revelations of abuse and the largely inadequate responses in the past."

Three clients of Louisville attorney B. Keith Saksefski alleged that sexual misconduct occurred on three occasions during Muench's tenure as associate pastor at Good Shepherd Parish in Frankfort from 1984 to 1986, according to the Lexington diocese. The diocese received a letter containing the allegations from the attorney in March 2009. The diocese asked a private investigator to look into the matter the next day, according to the diocese.

Muench was suspended from active ministerial service in July 2009. The diocese informed the Franklin Commonwealth's Attorney's office of the suspension the same day, according to the Lexington diocese.

A civil suit has been filed against the Diocese of Covington by one of the priest's accusers.

Reach Jennifer Hewlett at (859) 231-3308 or 1-800-950-6397 or jhewlett@herald-leader.com, Ext. 3308.

 
 

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