Priest Sent to Prison for 15-years in Sodomy Case
By Claire Galofaro
May 30, 2014
|James Shook, center sits in Jefferson Circuit Court awaiting sentencing. 30 May 2014|
As the frail Catholic priest was led from a Jefferson County courtroom Friday morning, Michael Stansbury held his breath — for the first time in 40 years, feeling that he might finally find some peace.
The Rev. James Schook, a convicted child molester, had lost his final bid to stay out of prison.
Circuit Judge Mitch Perry ordered the dying priest, diagnosed years ago with end-stage melanoma, to be taken immediately into custody to begin his 15-year sentence, ending another sordid chapter in the Louisville Archdiocese's priest-abuse crisis.
Schook was convicted last month of three counts of sodomy and one count of indecent or immoral practice for molesting a teenage altar boy in the 1970s. The jury recommended he serve 15 years in prison.
Schook asked the judge to consider his age and his illness, and allow him to serve his time on probation, rather than in prison. His attorney, David Lambertus, tried to convince the judge a dying priest posed no threat to the community, and would cost taxpayers untold fortunes in medical care in prison.
Prosecutor John Balliet countered that Schook is the most dangerous sort of criminal: he's shown no remorse; he has never apologized.
"I don't think anybody is more dangerous than a person who does terrible acts like this and refused to take any responsibility for what they've done," Balliet told the judge. "He doesn't think they're wrong."
The case has been delayed for years, Balliet said, as Schook's lawyer insisted his client was on his deathbed and far too sick to proceed. In the meantime, Schook served no jail time.
Perry dismissed Schook's request for leniency — he denied him probation and declined to set bond pending appeal. He said he called the Department of Corrections before Friday's hearing, to ensure they'd be prepared to manage his health conditions.
"This court believes you've been spared the consequences of your acts going back almost 40 years," Perry told him. "It cannot go unnoticed, in all the reports to the court, you simply have refused to take responsibility for these matters."
Lambertus declined to comment Friday.
Schook was tried for molesting Stansbury and a second boy, Richard Whitfield. The jury convicted him of abusing only Whitfield. Schook never denied that he had a sexual relationship with both boys, but his attorney argued that Stansbury was of legal age when the relationship began.
Stansbury says he still wakes up nearly every night in a cold sweat. He has nightmares. He struggles to look at people, struggles to talk to them. He can't walk into a Catholic church.
Five years ago, he became so enraged at the thought of Schook on the street, he said thought he was going mad. He checked himself into a mental hospital, where he said he screamed and thrashed so violently they had to strap him down.
"You don't understand why other people walk through shadows until you have to," he said. "Sometimes you don't want to face things, so you run."
|James Schook, center right, enters Jefferson Circuit Court for sentencing. At his left is his attorney, David Lambertus. 30 May 2014 (Photo: David R. |
Schook, ordained in 1975, has been a central character for years in the local Catholic sex abuse crisis that exploded in 2002, and left some deeply critical of the Archdiocese of Louisville, charging that the church protected its own reputation at the expense of vulnerable children.
The archdiocese released a statement Friday: "For the sake of victims and our community, it is important for those who have abused children to face the consequences of their actions as has happened with the conviction and sentencing of Fr. James Schook," the statement reads. "No child should have to experience abuse of any kind. As has been the case for many years, the archdiocese is committed to preventing the sexual abuse of minors through training and education and to reaching out to victims of sexual abuse."
Schook was temporarily removed from ministry in 2009, then permanently removed the following year when it was determined the allegations were credible. Though he retained the status of priest, he was sent to live a life of "prayer and penance," a common punishment for disgraced priests who are old or dying.
The archdiocese said in its statement Friday that they will send a report detailing Schook's conviction to Pope Francis, who will make a final determination if he will be defrocked.
Schook was the 10th priest removed from the ministry over allegations of abuse, and the sixth to face criminal charges. Only one of them received a sentence stiffer than Schook.
Louis Miller, 83, is serving a 30-year prison sentence at the Kentucky State Reformatory. He pleaded guilty in 2003 to abusing 29 kids in Jefferson and Oldham counties over three decades.
Schook is also likely to serve his sentence at the state reformatory, which has a hospice unit capable of caring for the terminally ill.
How long he will serve remains uncertain, Balliet said. The Department of Corrections must calculate his parole eligibility dates based on formulas used 40 years ago when the crime was committed, rather than the current parole model. Lisa Lamb, a spokeswoman for the prison system, said it's impossible to speculate until they receive the proper paperwork, likely next week.
Schook did not react to the sentence Friday. He passed a folder to his family in the galley, then leaned into his walker as a deputy led him through the courtroom's side door to a holding cell.
Stansbury and Whitfield stood, smiled at each other, and hugged.
But Stansbury, and advocates Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, warn that the fallout is far from over: just this month, the Louisville archdiocese suspended yet another priest on accusations that he abused a boy in the 1970s.