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  Lexington Bishop Resigns His Post
Williams Faces 3 Suits Accusing Him of Sex Abuse

By Art Jester and Frank Lockwood
Lexington Herald Leader (Kentucky)
June 12, 2002

Bishop J. Kendrick Williams of Lexington's Catholic diocese, accused of sexual abuse in three civil lawsuits, said yesterday he has resigned so that the "diocese can rid itself of the cloud which hangs over it and me."

"I believe it is best for me to step down, so a new bishop can be appointed as soon as possible," Williams, 65, said in a prepared statement.

Williams is the fourth U.S. bishop to resign this year as part of a sex scandal that has thrown the Catholic Church into turmoil.

Bishop Anthony O'Connell of Palm Beach, Fla., resigned in March after admitting he abused a seminary student 25 years ago.

Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee resigned last month after he admitted paying a man $450,000 to settle a sexual abuse allegation.

And yesterday, Bishop James F. McCarthy resigned as pastor of a Westchester, N.Y., church and as auxiliary bishop in the New York Archdiocese after admitting to affairs with women.

At least 225 Roman Catholic priests in the United States have resigned or been dismissed since the scandal emerged in January.

Williams has said in the past that he is innocent of all allegations.

In a statement yesterday, he said, "I do not want my resignation to give any credence to the allegations made against me," Williams said.

Accused in lawsuits

Williams has been accused of sexual abuse in three lawsuits that have been filed against the Archdiocese of Louisville, where Williams served earlier in his career:

* James W. Bennett of Louisville accused Williams of abusing him in 1981 when Bennett was a 12-year-old altar boy.

* David Hall of New Haven accused Williams of fondling him and making an inappropriate sexual remark when Hall was an 18-year-old high school senior in 1969.

* Thomas C. Probus, 33, of Louisville, accused Williams of making an inappropriate sexual remark to him in 1981.

The three men said yesterday they are glad to see Williams resign, but they expressed anger at his claims of innocence.

"I would love to have seen him in court, with his hand on a Bible denying it," Hall said. "He keeps claiming he's innocent, but I know it's a stack of lies."

Probus called Williams' resignation "a step in the right direction."

"People like him shouldn't be in power to do the things he's done," Probus said.

Bennett called Williams' resignation "good news."

"I think it's long overdue," he said.

William McMurry, the Louis-ville lawyer who represents the three men, said that "without these lawsuits, he (Williams) would still be bishop."

McMurry, who has filed more than 100 lawsuits against the Louisville archdiocese, described Williams' resignation as a victory for his clients and other alleged victims, for the Catholic church and for his legal efforts to force open church records so the public can know about all allegations of sexual misconduct by priests.

Lexington lawyer Robert Treadway said the resignation will not affect the $50 million lawsuit he has filed against the Lexington and Covington dio-ceses on behalf of five alleged victims of sexual abuse, all unnamed.

Treadway said he thinks Williams as bishop was part of a coverup of sexual misconduct by priests.

However, Treadway said that, so far, his lawsuit does not include any accusations that Williams committed sexual abuse.

Will stay a priest

Tom Shaughnessy, the spokesman for the Lexington diocese, said Williams submitted his resignation May 31 in Washington, D.C., to the papal nuncio, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, the pope's representative to the United States.

"The decision to tender his resignation was Bishop Williams' alone," Shaughnessy said.

After Williams' resignation passed through administrative channels, it was accepted by Pope John Paul II, who had appointed Williams as bishop when the pope created the Lexington diocese in 1988.

Shaughnessy said Williams would remain a priest and bishop, although he would not hold any church position.

"This is effectively retirement for him," said Shaughnessy, who described Williams as being in seclusion at his home.

"It is very difficult for him as it would be for any person accused of sexual misconduct or abuse," Shaughnessy said.

Shaughnessy said "morale has been low" among the diocesan staff as many there began to suspect that Williams might resign.

"He's a man who inspires loyalty," Shaughnessy said. "He is kind and generous."

Louisville Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly issued a statement calling Williams a "great servant of the church, and his leadership and achievements will always be a gift to us."

"May God bring peace to his pastor's heart as he looks to the future. May we always remember the blessings that have come to us through his ministry."

One of Williams' accomplishments as bishop was to lead the diocese to the adoption of what was generally considered a model policy concerning allegations of sexual abuse.

It required that anyone in the diocese who is suspected of or formally charged with sexual abuse be placed on administrative leave, pending an investigation, and the matter had to be reported to law enforcement authorities.

The diocese has a committee to review such allegations, and, although it has met once to consider Williams' case, the committee has been stymied, Shaughnessy said.

Because the alleged victims who have accused Williams have filed lawsuits and thus are pursuing a legal remedy, they have declined to meet with the committee.

U.S. bishops will be considering adopting a national policy on sexual abuse when they meet, beginning Thursday, in Dallas.

 
 

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