Lexington Bishop Accused
Man says he filed abuse suit to protect others
By Smith Peter Hall
Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY)
May 22, 2002
Bishop J. Kendrick Williams of the Diocese of Lexington has been accused in a lawsuit of sexually molesting a teen-age boy at a Louisville parish in 1981.
Identified only as a "Father Williams" in a lawsuit filed yesterday against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville, the bishop is accused of molesting the boy at the Church of Our Lady, in Louisville's Portland neighborhood.
The lawsuit, filed in Jefferson Circuit Court by James W. Bennett, 33, of Old Louisville, does not give specifics about the alleged abuse. But Bennett said in an interview that the allegation involves a single incident that occurred while he was serving as an altar boy when he was about 12.
He said he is unfazed about accusing a bishop.
"I wouldn't bring it forward if it wasn't true," Bennett said. "It's to protect others."
Thomas F. Shaughnessy, spokesman for the Diocese of Lexington, said last night that Williams would wait until today to issue a statement.
"We have not seen the lawsuit or the allegation," Shaughnessy said. "We do not know the name of the accuser. We simply don't have any information at this point."
Shaughnessy said he did not know of any other allegations ever lodged against Williams.
THE LAWSUIT is one of a dozen
filed yesterday - and 87 since last month - accusing the Louisville archdiocese of employing abusive priests and other workers.
Williams, 65, a Kentucky native who was ordained as a priest in Louisville in 1963, has led the Lexington diocese since its founding in 1988.
Brian Reynolds, chief administrative officer for the Louisville archdiocese, said Bishop Williams was the only priest by that name working at Our Lady at that time. Archbishop Thomas Kelly informed Williams of the allegation after learning of it late yesterday afternoon, Reynolds said.
Bennett said when the alleged abuse happened, "I literally ran from church that day after 9:30 Mass." He said he immediately told his father and stepmother of the alleged abuse. He said they did not tell church officials, but his father told him he could stop serving as an altar boy.
He said he has told other people over the years but only recently decided to contact an attorney and come forward. "If you were 12, it's shocking," he said. "Now I have someone who can stand up for me."
The lawsuit, which was among 12 filed yesterday by attorney William McMurry, identified the accused with only part of a name. McMurry said he was unable to learn the complete name of the priest but felt he had enough information to file the suit.
The lawsuit also imprecisely identified the church where Williams served as an associate pastor in 1981.
The lawsuit alleges the abuse occurred at "Our Lady's of Notre Dame Church." Now known as the Church of Our Lady, it was founded as Notre Dame du Port (Our Lady of the Port) in 1839 by French immigrants.
Lawsuits give only one side of a case. As with other cases against the archdiocese, Reynolds declined to comment on the merits of the lawsuit.
Pope John Paul II created the Diocese of Lexington in 1988 and assigned Williams as its first bishop.
THE DIOCESE was created from
43 counties that had been in the Diocese of Covington or the Archdiocese of Louisville.
Williams had been auxiliary bishop of Covington since 1984.
He was born in LaRue County and attended Old Kentucky Home High School in Bardstown, according to his biography on the diocesan Web site. He also graduated from St. Mary's College in St. Mary, Ky., and St. Maur's School of Theology in South Union, Ky.
He was ordained a priest for the Louisville archdiocese on May 25, 1963.
According to a copy of his curriculum vitae on file at The Courier-Journal, from 1963-65 Williams served as associate pastor at St. Rita. From 1965-71 he was associate pastor at St. Catherine in New Haven, Ky.
From 1971-84 he served in archdiocesan administrative positions.
From 1978-83 he served as associate pastor at the Church of Our Lady before moving to Holy Trinity as pastor in 1983 and then to Covington in 1984.
Williams has had to address the issue of priest abuse more than once as Lexington's bishop.
Last month, Williams and the bishop of Joliet, Ill., suspended the Rev. Carroll Howlin pending an investigation into sexual abuse allegations. Howlin is a priest of the Joliet diocese, but had been a pastor in Whitley City, Ky., in the Lexington diocese.
In 1994, Williams directly addressed the issue of sex abuse by priests in an apology at a church where a monsignor had abused children.
"To any person who has suffered abuse by a person in ministry, I want you to know my apology. I am sorry for the indignity you have suffered by a trusted member of our church," he said as the Mass began.
Williams also spoke of his own fears.
"I am afraid to touch a child. Even when I stand in a crowded parish hall and a child comes up and wraps his arms around me and says, 'I love you,' I fear."
He said that fear has tempered his ability to help victims of abuse.
"Sometimes I am afraid to act because I'm afraid what I do might hurt you deeper," he said.
AT THE END of the Mass, Wil-
liams asked people who have been abused to report the abuse immediately.
In an interview afterward, Williams said the Catholic Church had believed that pedophiles could be treated through counseling and then returned to parishes. But he said then that the church was handling cases differently by reporting allegations to police.
The diocese also created a policy defining three types of sexual misconduct: harassment, exploitation and abuse of minors or adults who are incapacitated.
Williams is not the first bishop to be accused of abusing a child. Earlier this year, Bishop Anthony O'Connell of Palm Beach, Fla., resigned over a sexual-abuse allegation, as did his predecessor, J. Keith Symons, in 1999.
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.