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  Young Men Claim Advances by Priest

By Ziva Branstetter
Tulsa World [Oklahoma]
August 1, 2002

Tulsa police have interviewed five young men who claim to have been victims of sexual advances by a Tulsa priest, and the officers say new information may lead to more victims.

Tulsa Police Sgt. Wayne Allen said that detectives on a joint task force investigating sexual misconduct by the Tulsa priest "have gleaned additional information."

"They will continue the investigation, and the next step will be to confer with the District Attorney's Office in the days to come," he said.

Allen would not name the priest but has said the allegations involve conduct that occurred in Tulsa in the early and mid-1990s.

Sylvia Demarest, a Dallas attorney, said she has spoken with six young men who claim that they received unwanted sexual advances from the Rev. Kenneth Lewis.

Demarest said she has not been retained as an attorney for the men or their families but was acting as a spokeswoman. She said the families asked her to speak on their behalf following a press conference by Lewis on Tuesday.

Lewis resigned July 22 as pastor of his McAlester church following allegations of improper conduct with young men at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Tulsa. He has not been charged with a crime, and during the press conference Tuesday, Lewis adamantly denied allegations of sexual contact with children.

Demarest, who has represented victims in other cases of priest sexual abuse, urged parents in parishes where Lewis served to speak to their children.

"If parents have children who have had a great deal of contact with Father Ken, those children should be seen by a child psychologist. ... If there has been inappropriate contact, and if it is addressed now, (the trauma) can be minimized."

Demarest said one of the six men she interviewed alleges having a sexual relationship with Lewis from age 12 to age 15. She said the relationship began when the man was a Boy Scout in Tulsa in the early 1990s and before Lewis entered the seminary.

She said the man told her Lewis assisted his Tulsa Boy Scout troop.

Demarest said five other men allege that Lewis made various advances toward them while he was a pastor at St. Mary's.

"Two of them reported genital contact," she said.

She said the episodes occurred in a sleeping bag during a camping trip and in an associate pastor's office at the church.

"I have spoken to each one of these boys, and they describe the same technique ... massaging their legs, their chests and backs, ... talking to them about sex, talking to them about masturbation, ... talking to them about homosexuality."

Demarest said the men and their families think the church should have reported the matter to police.

"I believe there was a tremendous cover-up here. ... That's one of the reasons why we need to make sure the police investigation goes forward," she said.

Kent Caraway, executive director of the Indian Nations Council of the Boy Scouts of America, said he is unaware of accusations involving sexual abuse at a Tulsa Scout troop. He said he does not know whether Lewis was involved in a Tulsa Boy Scout troop in the early 1990s.

Lewis' attorney, Clark Brewster, denied the allegations that Demarest said the young men made to her.

"If she's got the proof, she should file what she thinks is the appropri ate lawsuit," he said. "We are talking about a situation where somebody who has a monetary motive is coming into this state and whipping people up."

Demarest said she is not retained as an attorney for the families and was acting at their request.

"I haven't decided whether I want to become involved in a civil lawsuit in Tulsa," she said. "At this point I am simply assisting the parents and the victims because they have requested my help."

Bishop Edward Slattery said Tuesday that he made "a mistake" in returning Lewis to active ministry following allegations of misconduct in 1994. Slattery said he ordered a formal investigation of the matter recently and learned of new information that "consisted of additional incidents of disturbing behavior."

However, Slattery said diocese attorneys advised him that the conduct did not constitute a crime under state law and that the case was not reported to police.

The Tulsa Diocese has received reports of at least three other cases where priests have made sexual advances or acted improperly with children, the Tulsa World has learned. One case involves actions by a priest 25 years ago, while another involves a priest who was returned to India following allegations against him.

The third case occurred in the past four or five years, said Edward Maillet, former chancellor of the diocese and a spokesman for Slattery. Maillet said the case involved a priest who was on "administrative leave and not in the ministry."

He said the Tulsa division of the Department of Human Services was notified about the matter at the time. Maillet said he does not know what became of the case but that it was "presumably investigated."

Maillet also clarified statements by Slattery in March that the diocese had reviewed its files for cases of priest abuse.

"No priest assigned anywhere in the Tulsa Diocese has ever been accused of abuse," Slattery told the World in March.

Maillet said that was correct, even though allegations had been made against Lewis and The Rev. John Jangam, the priest from India.

"The explanation resides in the nature of the allegations. ... While certainly imprudent and inappropriate, it seemed at the time that it did not constitute sexual abuse."

Maillet also responded to Gov. Frank Keating's call for full disclosure of what the diocese has paid for counseling, medication or other expenses for alleged victims of priest sexual misconduct. Keating said such disclosure was agreed to in June when U.S. Roman Catholic bishops met in Dallas.

"I haven't heard that discussed, but if that's what the bishops agreed to, I suppose that's what we will do," Maillet said.

Ziva Branstetter, World projects editor, can be reached at 581-8378 or via e-mail at ziva.branstetter@tulsaworld.com.


STATEMENT FROM FAMILIES Families of young men who have reported allegations of inappropriate activities by the Rev. Ken Lewis issued the following statement on Wednesday:

"We are saddened by the manner in which the Diocese of Tulsa has handled the investigation and removal of Father Ken Lewis.

"What is of critical importance now is that the appropriate criminal authorities in Tulsa, Fairfax and McAlester areas conduct a full and complete investigation of Father Ken Lewis's activities with children and including the handling of the investigations of Father Ken Lewis by the Diocese of Tulsa.

"This investigation should include professional interviews with all children who have spent time with Father Ken.

"It is only through such an investigation that we can find the truth and identify all children in need of help.

"We ask all parents of children who have spent time alone with Father Ken to immediately contact the police authorities so that their children can be interviewed.

"Please call the Tulsa Police at 669-6504 or 284-8435.

"We are praying for all the children, young people, and their families that have not sought help as of yet. We want you to know there is help and people who care deeply about you."

The statement said another resource is SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. 312-409-2720 or www.survivorsnetwork.org.

 
 

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