Jury Clears Priest Man's Lawyers Vow to Appeal Verdict in Lawsuit over Alleged Sexual Abuse
By Jean Lakeman Helms
April 5, 1996
Jurors in a civil trial cleared Monsignor Cordell J. Lang of allegations that he had sexually abused former McGill-Toolen High School student Timothy Bolden from 1988 to 1991.
The Thursday verdict in the year-old lawsuit means Lang will be restored to his priestly duties immediately, said Mobile Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb.
Lipscomb said that justice requires that he restore Lang as associate pastor of St. Mary's Catholic Church, "and I will do so today."
The jury listened to three days of testimony and deliberated four hours Wednesday and Thursday before returning the decision, which brought rejoicing from Lang's friends and associates.
"Thanks be to God," said the Very Rev. G. Warren Wall, chancellor of the Catholic Archdiocese of Mobile, when told of the verdict.
Wall was an associate pastor at St. Mary's when Lang was assigned there as a newly ordained priest in 1979.
The Rev. Tom Weise, who said he has known Lang for 30 years, echoed Wall's comments: "Thank God. I believe justice has been done." At a news conference later Thursday, Lipscomb wept as he spoke of Lang, who is "singularly free of bitterness and recrimination." "I want to express my deep gratitude that the jury system works and that justice has prevailed in this matter," the archbishop said.
In the courtroom, Lang smiled after the verdict, then slowly and with apparent difficulty extended his left hand to shake hands with his attorneys, Claude Boone and Rick Courtney.
Lang, 50, uses a wheelchair because he suffers from multiple sclerosis, a degenerative disease of the nervous system.
Bolden's attorney, Archie Lamb of Birmingham, said crucial testimony was kept out of the trial and he will appeal to a higher court.
Lamb said jurors should have been allowed to hear that when first questioned about Bolden's accusations, Lang "took the Fifth," or asserted his Fifth Amendment right not to testify against himself. Mobile County Circuit Judge Robert G. Kendall did not allow Lamb to introduce Lang's refusal into evidence. Lang testified Tuesday that he never abused or inappropriately touched Bolden. Although the Fifth Amendment refers only to criminal actions, Lang was never charged with any crime; the lawsuit in this case was a civil action seeking $1.5 million in damages.
Bolden sued on March 1, 1995, maintaining that he was abused when he went to see Lang, then a guidance counselor at McGill-Toolen. Lang used "physical force, threats and coercion" and engaged in "immoral sexual acts," Bolden charged.
Bolden, now 22, testified Monday that the priest struck him and performed oral sex on him in Lang's office at St. Mary's rectory. Although jurors might have doubted Bolden after seeing the disabled Lang's physical condition, Lamb said, Bolden did not charge that Lang forced him to engage in sex. "That was never, ever our claim," Lamb said.
Bolden maintained only that Lang struck him before sexually abusing him, Lamb said.
Lipscomb suspended Lang from his priestly duties when the lawsuit was filed. Lipscomb cited policies established by the National Council of Catholic Bishops in taking the action.
At the same time, Lipscomb praised Lang's "15-year record of unblemished service, often given at great personal sacrifice as a consequence of his physical disability."
After the Thursday verdict, Lang's attorneys pushed his wheelchair to the elevator as he departed the courtroom at Government Plaza. Boone said the priest was "just exhausted" by the trial and was not strong enough to comment to reporters. Bolden's family members declined comment.
Lang was followed by his smiling parents, James and Sarah Lang of Mobile. The Langs have cared for their son in their home since 1985 when his disease forced him to leave St. Mary's rectory, where he had lived since 1979.
The Langs were accompanied by friends and the Rev. John Aherne, vicar general for the archdiocese, Lang's superior at St. Mary's from 1982 to 1993.
Aherne had testified that Lang's right hand is "useless' and that the younger priest was physically too weak in the late 1980s to have assaulted anyone.
Lipscomb said Lang is too ill to work again as a guidance counselor and will be unable to do much work in the parish. "He will do what he can," Lipscomb said. "I, as his bishop, will be especially grateful."
Lipscomb said he had just finished leading priests in Pensacola in a traditional Holy Week ceremony renewing their vows when he heard of Thursday's verdict. He said he went straight to Lang's home.
"I went to speak with him and renewed with him his vows," Lipscomb said, struggling against tears. "He said, yes, he does want to serve in the priesthood as best he can."
Attorney Boone said he is "obviously very pleased with the verdict. Our heart goes out to Timothy Bolden. We hope he gets well soon."
Testimony from a Birmingham psychiatrist indicated Bolden suffers from mental problems including delusional paranoia and hallucinations.
Crystal Kelley, an Auburn clinical psychologist, said her examination showed Bolden's symptoms are "very consistent with having been sexually abused."
Still named as defendants in the suit are the archdiocese and the high school.
Bolden charged in his lawsuit that once he realized his emotional and psychological difficulties stemmed from the alleged assaults, the Catholic church refused to help him mentally, medically or spiritually.
No trial date has been set for the remainder of the case.
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