Boy's parents sue archdiocese over priest
By Andrew Wolfson
March 29, 2016
|Attorney William F. McMurry is handling the lawsuit filed by Christeena Gallahue and husband Rick Gallahue, Jr. against the archdiocese stemming from the photos the priest Stephen Pohl took of their son.|
The parents of a boy allegedly photographed by the Rev. Stephen Pohl at St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church have sued the Archdiocese of Louisville, saying that for decades he engaged in the bizarre practice of taking pictures of clothed children in sexual poses and that the church should have put a stop to it.
Pohl also was sentenced Tuesday to 33 months in federal prison for accessing pornography using computers in the church’s office and rectory.
In a statement he read aloud in court, Pohl, who resigned from the church, apologized to parishioners, family, friends and Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz.
"I pray for all who have been hurt by my actions that they might have God's healing and peace," he said.
In their lawsuit filed in Jefferson Circuit Court, Christeena and Richard Gallahue Jr. say Pohl’s misconduct shows the archdiocese broke the promises it made to ferret out abusive priests when it paid $25.7 million in 2003 to 243 men and women who were molested as children at Catholic schools and churches. Pohl allegedly photographed their son in 2014.
“Such promises are proven by the conduct of Father Stephen Pohl to be hollow assurances,” attorney William F. McMurry says in the complaint filed on the Gallahues' behalf.
“Sadly, these past lawsuits have done nothing to change the leadership culture, and the children of the Church remain at serious risk of sexual abuse and exploitation by priests,” he said.
McMurry was co-lead counsel in the priest-abuse litigation, which ended in what at the time was the largest settlement paid by an archdiocese out of its own pocket.
In an interview, Christeena Gallahue, whose children now go to public school, said: "The leaders of the church are called to be good shepherds, and good shepherds watch out for their flock. We feel that they did not do that.”
Cecelia Price, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said it doesn't comment on pending litigation. She also didn't respond to the suit's assertions that it had reneged on pledges made in the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which was issued in 2002 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in response to the priest abuse crisis.
The suit asks for compensatory and punitive damages, alleging the archdiocese knew or should have known that the 57-year-old Pohl, who was hired in 1985 and served at five churches in Louisville and Bardstown, was “dangerously unsuitable” for the job.
The couple also alleges Pohl’s conduct in photographing children was “so open and obvious” that the archdiocese and its employees were negligent in failing to stop it and report it to authorities.
Christeena Gallahue says in the suit that she was picking up her son and daughter, then seven and five, respectively, at the parish after school in August 2014 when she came upon Pohl photographing them as they sat on the parish steps. The suit said he reacted nervously and said he would send her a copy of the pictures but never did.
The complaint alleges that their son began to act defiantly and didn’t want to go to school, prompting the family to send him for counseling. She said she later was attending a Boy Scout banquet at the church when she saw Pohl alone with another boy taking pictures on the same steps and that he again seemed startled when he saw her.
The couple says that after media reports of Pohl’s arrest last August, they obtained the arrest warrant affidavit and it described conduct very similar to what Christeena Gallahue had observed. She then reported the incident involving her son to police, according to the lawsuit.
After Pohl’s arrest last August, investigators said that during a search of the church office and rectory at 7813 Shelbyville Road they found more than 150 pictures that Pohl snapped of clothed students, some of which they said constituted child erotica. He wasn’t charged with a crime in connection with those pictures.
Prosecutors have said the images Pohl viewed online were not children from St. Margaret Mary.
McMurry said the church could have easily detected that Pohl was viewing porn on its premises if technology widely used in private and government workplaces to detect such behavior were in place.
The Gallahues said their son confirmed he had been photographed by Pohl in unusual poses and positions.
The suit asks for damages for emotional distress inflicted on the family and that the photographs taken by Pohl be preserved as possible evidence in the suit.
Gallahue, 35, and her husband, 42, said they no longer attend St. Margaret Mary.
"Our faith in god is unchanged," she said. "but we have lost our trust in the leaders of the church."
David Clohessy of St. Louis, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said in a statement that “we are grateful to the brave Louisville family that is suing a priest and his church supervisors over reported child sex crimes. Kids are safest when those they hurt seek justice in court.”
U.S. District Court Judge David Hale accepted the terms of Pohl’s plea agreement, which called for 33 months.
He had faced up to 10 years in prison on the single federal felony charge.
In January, Pohl admitted to accessing more than 100 pornographic images of nude underage boys on computers at the church rectory and office between January and August 2015.
Pohl will be credited for the nearly three months he's spent in custody since his guilty plea. With good behavior, he is expected to serve 85 percent of his sentence or about 25 more months.
He also must register as a sex offender and undergo lifetime supervision by the U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services. Pohl will also be required to pay a $7,500 fine.
His lawyers, Ted Shouse, Annie O'Connell and John H. Harralson, had argued in court papers that he posed a low risk of re-offending.
Shouse said after court Tuesday that Pohl plans to continue treatment in prison and that his in-court apology was sincere and honest. He also noted the court received more than 20 letters from clergy, former parishioners and friends who spoke highly of Pohl and asked the court for mercy.
"I think that says a lot about Fr. Pohl's character," Shouse said.
Pohl is still a priest, but remains suspended from priestly ministry, Price said. Now that the criminal process is over, the Vatican will determine his status, she said.