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  Diocese Not Named in '95 Abuse Deal

By Range Stacey
Lansing State Journal
July 11, 2002

The Catholic Diocese of Lansing learned last week that it did not contribute any money to the 1995 settlement with a former altar boy who says a Christian Brother sexually abused him 36 years ago.

However, documents associated with the charge show that diocese leaders were aware of the allegation more than seven years ago and knew there was a settlement pending.

The settlement was between Bill Kinney, who says he was assaulted in 1966 while a sophomore at Gabriels High School, and the De La Salle Christian Brothers of the Midwest. Kinney received $10,000 in psychiatric care but got no financial settlement for himself.

Kinney, 53, of Lansing, told diocese officials in December 1994 that he was assaulted by Brother Jeffrey Gregory, who Kinney says performed oral sex on him while masturbating.

Last month, Kinney told diocese officials he also was fondled by James S. Sullivan , an East Lansing priest who went on to become bishop of Fargo, N.D.

Sullivan denied the charge in a telephone interview last month. Gregory, who officials say lives in a nursing home in California, could not be located for comment.

Officials from the Diocese of Lansing, which serves 225,000 Catholics in 10 mid-Michigan counties, say they don't believe either allegation.

But because of the diocese's new full disclosure policy, officials turned both cases over to Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III for review. Dunnings said charges aren't likely because the statute of limitations on such a crime has expired.

"The whole idea that we were involved is ridiculous," said Harry Iwasko , the diocese's lawyer. "We didn't even know of the settlement until June 21."

Diocese spokesman Michael Diebold told the Lansing State Journal last month that the diocese had joined with the Christian Brothers to settle the first allegation. He said they did so because "it was the right thing to do."

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

Diebold last week denied making those statements.

Diocese officials said such statements would have been premature be they didn't receive a copy of the settlement until July 1. They found out then that the diocese was not named in the settlement papers.

But diocese officials knew of the allegation long ago.

An internal document provided by the diocese shows that church officials were made aware of the allegation on Dec. 13, 1994. The memo from Monsignor James Murray , now bishop of Kalamazoo, to Bishop Kenneth Povish , who retired in 1996, says: "Today, I received a call from a 46-year-old man whose name is William Kinney. ... On the phone he stated that he had been sexually abused while a student at Gabriels High School."

The diocese then notified the Christian Brothers, said Brother Thomas Johnson , who was head of the Midwest region until June 30, 2001. The diocese owned the school but contracted with the Christian Brothers to run it.

On Feb. 7, 1996, one month before Kinney's complaint was settled, the diocesan lawyer sent a claim letter about the case to its insurance company. The letter, written by Camille Abood - who represented the diocese until he died in 2000 - outlined the case.

"The Christian Brothers are taking full responsibility for Mr. Kinney's allegations," Abood wrote. "As a result of negotiations with the Christian Brothers, the Diocese of Lansing is no longer a party to this matter."

Church leaders last week dismissed the findings of Kinney's psychiatric evaluation.

Dr. Frank Ochberg, a Harvard University graduate and clinical professor of psychiatry at Michigan State University, performed the evaluation in November 1995.

In his report, Ochberg wrote: "In my opinion, this man was severely abused and damaged by agents of the Catholic Church."

Ochberg was director of mental health for the state from 1979 to 1981 and director of mental health at St. Lawrence Hospital from 1981 to 1984.

He also spent nine years with the National Institute of Mental Health, including two years as associate director, and helped the FBI negotiate a peaceful end to the 1996 Freeman standoff in Montana.

But Iwasko said Ochberg "has a reputation among lawyers."

"I don't have a good opinion of him," Iwasko said. "I am not moved at all by what he says."

Ochberg said he doesn't understand why the church is questioning his credibility.

"They asked me to help Mr. Kinney and that's what I did," Ochberg said. "And he believes he benefited from my care."

Diocese not named

That the diocese is not named in the settlement should erase doubts about whether the church was honest about abuse locally, Iwasko said.

As reports of predatory priests surfaced in churches nationwide, officials with the Diocese of Lansing have assured parishioners that nothing of the sort has happened here.

"The bishop was speaking solely of diocesan priests," Iwasko said. "I think that makes a big difference."

The Diocese of Lansing, like others, includes members from several religious orders and dioceses. Currently working in Lansing are 105 diocesan priests, 27 priests from other dioceses, 32 priests from varying religious orders and 16 religious brothers. Only the diocesan priests are answerable to Lansing Bishop Carl Mengeling. Iwasko said there have been no other substantiated allegations against the diocese.

Iwasko, who took over media inquiries into the case from Diebold, said the diocese is still investigating the allegations but that the query is not into the alleged abusers. Instead, Iwasko said, the diocese is investigating Kinney.

And Iwasko asked the Lansing State Journal to help persuade Kinney to file a criminal complaint against the brother and Sullivan.

"Then we can get him for filing a false complaint," Iwasko said.

Kinney said no one representing the diocese has spoken to him since he met with Monsignors Michael Murphy and Robert Lunsford on June 13.

But Iwasko said Kinney's relatives have told him that Kinney suffered from delusions and was a compulsive liar.

"We are looking at Mr. Kinney's character," he said. "He appears to be the kind of person capable of convincing anyone of anything.

"He was a car salesman, for God's sake."

Kinney sold Fords and Buicks for about 20 years after serving two years in the Army. He now collects disability and lives on a $700-a-month veterans pension.

The church also says Kinney was not an altar boy, although Iwasko said the diocese doesn't keep such records.

Instead the church leaders point to Kinney's poor academic grades, contending they show he wasn't smart enough to say Mass in Latin.

Kinney said he didn't have to learn Latin.

The church started reciting Mass in English in 1965, said Lawrence Cunningham, professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame.

The church also says Kinney wasn't Catholic.

Kinney, who was baptized Lutheran, says he is Catholic. He said he went to the Rev. Eugene Sears, counselor of Gabriels, shortly after transferring from Everett High School in 1966 and professed his faith. He also was working toward his confirmation, when a person formally accepts the Catholic faith.

Cunningham said that in the 1960s a person could become Catholic simply by professing belief in the church and practicing Catholicism.

Sears, now pastor of St. Joseph Church in the Kalamazoo diocese, said he doesn't recall Kinney.

"I talked to a lot of kids about their faith," Sears said. "I don't remember him but it could've happened."

The diocese also questioned the dates Kinney said he was a student at Gabriels.

Kinney said he transferred from Everett to Gabriels during the 1965-66 academic year. School records provided by the diocese show he was enrolled at Gabriels for the third and fourth quarters - the same time Kinney says he was assaulted.

Academic records

To prove its contention that Kinney wasn't smart enough to learn Latin, Iwasko provided copies of Kinney's academic records from both schools. But the move might have violated federal law protecting students, said T.J. Bucholz, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Education.

"Releasing public school records without a student's consent is against federal law," Bucholz said. "They have potentially violated this person's rights."

Iwasko said the reports show a pattern of poor performance.

"He's trying to blame us for the failures in his life but he was a failure before he came to Gabriels," Iwasko said.

Further, diocese officials say they don't believe Kinney's allegations against Bishop Sullivan because he didn't tell them sooner.

Kinney says he was fondled by Sullivan while preparing for Mass at St. Thomas Aquinas, which has been in East Lansing since 1940.

Sullivan wasn't named pastor of that church until 1978, but the diocese said he performed services there when the church's pastor couldn't.

Kinney said he didn't reveal the alleged abuse earlier because he didn't think anyone would believe him. He says he did so recently because of the church's recent plea for abuse victims to come forward.

"I thought they might believe me now," Kinney said. "But they're still trying to deny it."

Contact Stacey Range at 377-1157 or srange@lsj.com.

Kinney

Box:

"I thought they might believe me now. But they're still trying to deny it."

Bill Kinney on allegations he made against church

 
 

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