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  "In My Opinion, This Man Was Severly Abused and Damged by Agents of the Catholic Church"

By Range Stacey
Lansing State Journal
June 30, 2002

The Lansing Catholic Diocese, which for months has denied any substantiated allegations of sexual abuse by local clergymen, admitted this week to quietly settling a claim in 1995 and is facing another accusation.

Bill Kinney, 53, of Lansing, says he was a 16-year-old altar boy when he was assaulted in 1966 by a Christian Brother. And he recently told diocese officials that he also was assaulted by a priest who went on to become the bishop of Fargo, N.D.

The bishop, James S. Sullivan, former pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in East Lansing, denies the accusation against him.

Diocese officials also deny Kinney's allegation against Brother Jeffrey Gregory, who taught him at Gabriels High School, now Lansing Catholic Central.

But seven years ago the diocese joined with the De La Salle Christian Brothers of the Midwest, Gregory's religious order, to pay $10,000 for psychiatric treatment for Kinney.

The prominent psychiatrist paid by the church to counsel Kinney found evidence of abuse.

Dr. Frank Ochberg , an Okemos psychiatrist and former director of state mental health, wrote in his 1995 evaluation: "In my opinion, this man was severely abused and damaged by agents of the Catholic Church."

The settlement is similar to others made nationwide by several churches accused of covering up abuse by clergy. The most prominent came out this January in Boston, when reports surfaced that the Catholic Church made out-of-court settlements to keep victims quiet and priests out of jail.

But this is the first charge to emerge against the Lansing diocese, which serves 225,000 Catholics in 10 Michigan counties.

Southfield attorney Justin Ravitz , who represented Kinney in the negotiations, said the agreement prohibited Kinney from filing a civil lawsuit. County prosecutors were never informed of the settlement or the case.

Diocese spokesman Michael Diebold says the diocese, which ran the school, and the Christian Brothers agreed to pay for Kinney's counseling because "it was the right thing to do."

"There was never any admission of guilt," Diebold said. "We paid because we are a charitable organization."

The settlement to pay for counseling involved only the brother because Kinney said he didn't think at the time that anyone would believe Sullivan molested him.

The Catholic Church's recent plea for potential victims to come forward prompted Kinney to reveal his accusation against Sullivan.

"Now, people might believe me," Kinney said, his voice trembling as he fought back tears. "My life hasn't been the same since all this happened so long ago. I want it to be over now."

Two weeks ago, Kinney met with the two diocese officials under Bishop Carl Mengeling . Monsignor Robert Lunsford is the diocesan chancellor who oversees daily affairs, and Monsignor Michael Murphy is the bishop's top aide.

Kinney told them that despite the counseling, he still was disturbed by the abuse because he had not revealed that he also was molested by Sullivan.

Sullivan, who left Lansing in 1985, was reached by phone last week in Fargo.

"That never happened," he said. "I would never have even thought about doing something like that."

The revelation prompted an internal inquiry, Diebold said. Both cases were turned over to Ingham County prosecutors a week later when the press began questioning the diocese.

Investigations by the church and prosecutor stalled briefly after Kinney's cousin, a priest in Jackson, told a reporter that Kinney never attended a Catholic high school. But records held by Lansing Catholic Central show he attended the school for most of the 1965-66 academic year - the year Kinney says he was victimized.

Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III said he isn't sure whether any criminal charges will result.

"It might have happened too long ago," Dunnings said.

That's because Michigan has statutes of limitation in criminal sexual conduct cases and that may mean substantiated investigations will not result in charges. The state abolished time limits in rape cases last year, but in other sex crimes, the state has 10 years or until the victim turns 21 to file charges, whichever comes last.

The church also isn't likely to take action, Diebold said.

Adopted June 14 by American bishops, the policy to bar sexually abusive clergy from face-to-face contact with parishioners wouldn't apply to either Sullivan or Gregory, because both are retired, Diebold said.

Sullivan, 73, retired as the bishop of Fargo last month because he is in the middle stages of Alzheimer's disease, said Stacey Majkrzak, spokeswoman for the Fargo diocese. Gregory, whose age was unknown, lives in a California nursing home and now uses his birth name. He couldn't be located for comment.

The Catholic Diocese of Fargo said no allegations of impropriety have been made against Sullivan there.

Regardless of whether church and state officials can substantiate the charge against Sullivan, the church made a mistake when it hid the 1995 settlement involving the brother, said Gaile Pohlhaus , a professor of theology at Villanova University near Philadelphia.

"Certainly people are going to feel betrayed by the church now," she said. "The church knew it was party to a settlement and wasn't upfront about it. That was deceitful."

At least 20 priests in Michigan have left, been suspended or removed from their duties since Jan. 1 because of sex abuse allegations.

But since reports of sexual abuse and cover-ups surfaced earlier this year at churches across the country, the Catholic Diocese of Lansing has assured local parishioners that nothing of the sort has happened here.

In March, Diebold told the Lansing State Journal that the church has not faced any "substantiated allegations" of sexual misconduct against priests in 15 years.

Kinney, his lawyer and Ochberg say that isn't true.

Here is an account of what happened to him, according to Kinney and statements he made to Ochberg, who treated him with weekly sessions from 1995 to 1998:

Baptized at birth into the Lutheran Church, Kinney decided to follow in the footsteps of his cousin, a Catholic priest. He transferred from Eastern High School to Gabriels High School in 1965. As he studied to be confirmed as a Catholic, he served as an altar boy for school masses.

Brother Gregory took an interest in the boy, helping him work through problems with his mother and stepfather and guiding him in his spiritual life.

A month or so after enrolling at Gabriels, the brother asked Kinney to help him carry a box of books to his room. Once inside, Kinney said Gregory showed him pornographic magazines. Kinney said Gregory then performed oral sex on Kinney while masturbating.

Kinney said when he reported this to Father Sullivan, he was told to keep quiet. Kinney said Sullivan also said, "I was the wicked one," Kinney recalled, "that I had caused it to happen."

A week later, Kinney said Sullivan requested him to serve a Sunday Mass at St. Thomas Aquinas in East Lansing. While preparing for the service, Kinney said Sullivan fondled him.

"He told me then that I had two options. He said 'either join the club or shut ... up.' "

The experience, Kinney said, was humiliating and confusing.

"I looked up to these people," Kinney said. "I wanted to be like them. I didn't know what to do."

Kinney never saw Sullivan again.

Kinney said he didn't want to stay at Gabriels so he dropped out of school about two weeks later and joined the U.S. Army.

Although Kinney said he repressed memories for 31 years, he blames his life's misfortunes and troubles on the abuse he charges he experienced.

He married and divorced twice. He drank heavily. He used illegal drugs for a couple of years.

The only success he found was selling new Fords and Buicks, which he did for about 20 years before quitting to care for his ailing mother.

Today, he lives in Lansing on a $700-a-month veterans pension.

Kinney said memories from 30 years ago of the abuse resurfaced in 1995 when he saw a televised report about boys molested by clergy. He called Ravitz, who agreed to talk to the diocese on his behalf.

Ochberg, who has testified in other cases of sexual assault by clergymen, refused to give specific details about Kinney's treatment. But he did say that Kinney's mental condition was consistent with what he has seen in other victims of abuse of all kinds.

And, he said, it is common for children to repress memories of abuse, but still be affected by them.

According to the report, Ochberg found Kinney was suffering in 1995 from delayed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a condition with symptoms of fear, anxiety, flashbacks and difficulty concentrating.

Ochberg said Kinney feels betrayed by the church and he longs for acknowledgement of the wrongs that he says were committed against him.

Ochberg concluded in 1995 that Kinney's prognosis was good, but only if the Catholic diocese responded to him with compassion.

"He still hasn't gotten that," Ochberg said last week.

Kinney said that's all he really wants. Despite his confusion and pain, Kinney said he hasn't given up his faith but he wants it strengthened by the church.

"I pray every night," he said. "I pray for myself and for Brother (Gregory) and for Bishop Sullivan. I pray that we'll all get some healing and satisfaction in our lives."

Infobox

Time line of events

*1965: Bill Kinney transfers from Eastern High School to Gabriels High School.

*1966: Kinney says he was molested by Brother Jeffrey Gregory, a school employee.

*Two months later, Kinney says he was fondled by the former pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church, Bishop James S. Sullivan.

*A couple weeks later, Kinney dropped out of school and joined the Army.

*1968: Kinney received a general discharge from the Army and returned to Lansing to sell new cars.

*Early 1995: Kinney remembers the abuse while watching a televised report on similar allegations against the church. He contacts a lawyer and tells him of the abuse by Gregory only.

*Mid-1995: The Lansing Diocese settles out-of-court with Kinney, and the De La Salle Christian Brothers agree to pay up to $10,000 for two years of counseling for Kinney.

*June 13: Kinney meets with Monsignors Robert Lunsford and Michael Murphy and tells them of the abuse by Sullivan.

*June 21: The diocese delivers a report of the allegation to Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III.

On the Web

*Lansing Catholic Diocese: www.dioceseoflansing.org

What is a Christian Brother?

*The De La Salle Christian Brothers is part of the international institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, serving youth through the ministry of education since 1680. The Midwest District is one of seven districts in the United States and Toronto Region. Its provincial headquarters are in Burr Ridge, Ill. The orgaization sponsors high schools, middle schools and a variety of other educational ministries. For more information, go to www.cbmidwest.org

Corrections and clarifications

The Lansing State Journal strives to provide accurate and fair reporting. It is our policy to correct substantive errors of fact. If you think we may have published incorrect information, please call 377-1174.

* James S. Sullivan, former bishop of Fargo, N.D., was pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas from 1978 to 1992. Before that he was secretary to the Lansing bishop but sometimes filled in for pastors unable to serve at Sunday Mass. A story on Page 1A of Sunday's State Journal was unclear.

 
 

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