Woman Seeks Money from Priest's Society

Birmingham News
November 30, 1993

Little Rock, Ark. (AP) - A woman now living in Birmingham who won a $1.5 million award after accusing a priest of sexually abusing her as a child is going after the priest's employer to get the money. Kimberly Phillips won the verdict Nov. 1 in federal court in Little Rock. The problem, however, is that the Rev. Timothy Sugrue transferred his assets to the Roman Catholic Marist Society after taking a vow of poverty. Her lawyers sued the Washington-based order Monday in federal court at Little Rock, claiming that it has "a multimillion-dollar balance sheet," and has promised to pay Sugrue's debts and expenses. Ms. Phillips' attorney, Morgan Welch, said the vow of poverty's effect was to "create a class of judgment-proof, affluent, abusive priests for whom neither they nor their superiors are responsible." The Rev. John Harhager, fathersuperior of the Marist Society, referred questions to Paul McNeill, an Arkansas-based attorney for the order. McNeill declined comment on the suit because he had not seen it, but said, "They've been having a vow of poverty long before they had these types of lawsuits." Ms. Phillips, 23, contended that the priest sexually molested her in 1978 when she was 8 years old and he was a military chaplain at the Blytheville (Ark.) Air Force Base where her father was stationed. During the trial, Sugrue took Fifth Amendment protection against selfincrimination more than 15 times on various questions involving sexual abuse of Ms.

Phillips, her sister, and other children in Ohio, Alaska, Louisiana, Arkansas and Georgia. However, he testified via videotape that he did not have sexual intercourse with her or fondle her. Sugrue is now based in Washington as the Marists' business manager. In her original suit, Ms. Phillips had named the society as a defendant, but the jury did not award damages against it. An official with the society testified during the twoweek trial that the order knew of no sexual abuse problem involving Sugrue or the church. The Nov. 1 award included about $500,000 in compensatory damages and about $1 million in punitive damages.


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