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By Parker Holmes and Jean Lakeman
Mobile Register
March 8, 1995

Peers shocked after priest sued for sexual misconduct But plaintiff's attorney claims cleric suffering multiple sclerosis had devastating effect as a guidance counselor at McGill-Toolen

Catholic priests who know the Rev. Cordell Lang reacted with shock and amazement to the news that a former high school student had accused Lang of sexual abuse in a civil lawsuit.

But an attorney representing Timothy Bolden, the man who accused Lang, says there's another side to the story.

Bolden sued in Mobile County Circuit Court on March 1, maintaining that Lang used "physical force, threats and coercion" and engaged in "immoral sexual acts" with Bolden from 1988 to 1991 while he was a student atMcGill-Toolen.

This is the second lawsuit against the Mobile archdiocese since September that alleges improper physical conduct by a priest. Both were filed by Birmingham attorney Archie Lamb.

Bolden could not be reached Tuesday for comment. A woman who answered the telephone at the plaintiff's address, as listed in the lawsuit, said Bolden doesn't reside there.

Lang, 49, is associate pastor at St. Mary Church and was a guidance counselor at McGill-Toolen until the end of the 1993-94 school year. He has suffered throughout adulthood with multiple sclerosis, a degenerative disease of the central nervous system, and he has used a wheelchair since the mid-1980s.

Ordained in 1979, he was the first black diocesan priest in Mobile.

"The multiple sclerosis has worsened in the last several years and has made his good days enormously outnumbered by the bad days," said the Very Rev. G. Warren Wall, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Mobile.

Bolden's classmates at McGill-Toolen remember Bolden as a someone who kept to himself. They also say he was big, guessing that he was about 6-foot-1 and 250 pounds by his senior year.

In a Monday statement, Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb said Lang resigned from McGill-Toolen for health reasons. Lipscomb said he had ordered Lang to discontinue his priestly duties at St. Mary pending the lawsuit's outcome.

Lipscomb praised Lang for his "15-year record of unblemished service."

The lawsuit charges that Lang took advantage of his religious position to sexually seduce and molest Bolden. Such conduct, according to the complaint, was "outrageous," "extreme in degree" and "atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized society."

In his complaint, which tells only the plaintiff's side of the story, Bolden also charged negligent supervision and breach of duty by St. Mary Catholic Church, the Archdiocese of Mobile, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, the United States Catholic Conference, McGill-Toolen and other unidentified defendants.

Bolden's lawsuit says that Lang coerced him to change his faith from Baptist to Roman Catholic so that Lang, in his capacity as priest, could forgive Bolden for his sins.

The lawsuit says that once Bolden realized his emotional and psychological difficulties stemmed from the assaults, the Catholic church refused to help him mentally, medically or spiritually.

Bolden has asked for unspecified punitive and actual damages. No trial date has been set.

Lang could not be reached Tuesday for comment, and an official at McGill-Toolen declined to comment.

Grey Redditt of Mobile, attorney for the archdiocese, said he has had little time to study the allegations but is investigating them. Redditt denied any wrongdoing by the church and said he will "vigorously defend" Lang and the archdiocese against Bolden's accusations.

Diocesan chancellor Wall lived with Lang from 1979 to 1981, while both were priests at St. Mary.

"He is gentle. I think he's pleasant. His smile on his face was always present," Wall said. "He has been very well received by the Catholic community and is much loved."

The Rev. John Aherne, vicar-general for the archdiocese, was a priest at St. Mary from 1982 to 1993. Aherne said he is "shocked and flabbergasted" by the accusations against Lang.

"He is kind, very patient with people. The way he dealt with his illness, it was inspiring" Aherne said. "Very rarely have I heard him complain ... how he maintained his sense of balance mentally and emotionally was just inspiring."

Said John Daigle of Mobile, a parishioner at St. Mary: "I always felt he was real spiritual. His Mass was always very uplifting. His sermons were very simple but direct and very helpful for me."

Lamb, Bolden's attorney, said although the matter is "a tragedy for everyone involved," the effects on his client have been "devastating."

"Inherent in the archbishop's statement seems to be that what Timothy has had to endure, and will have to endure, is somewhat ignored," Lamb said Tuesday. "Here is a situation where a ... child is sent to see a counselor and over the next three years the counselor abuses his position and power over the young man."

Lamb also represents Steve Travis of Selma, who sued in Mobile County Circuit Court last September charging the Rev. Nelson Ziter sexually and physically abused him 20 years ago while Ziter was pastor of Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Selma. That suit has been transferred to Dallas County Circuit Court. No trial date has been set.

 
 

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