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  Priest, Archdiocese Sued over Alleged Sex Abuse

By Judy L. Thomas
Kansas City Star
August 7, 2002

A Johnson County teen-ager is suing a Kansas priest who he says molested him in 1999. He also is suing the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, which he says failed to prevent the abuse.

Church officials said this marked the first time the archdiocese had been sued in a sexual abuse case involving a priest.

The lawsuit, filed in Douglas County District Court, says that the Rev. Dennis Schmitz had "negligent, reckless and intentional sexual contact" with the boy from Jan. 1 through Aug. 1, 1999. The boy was 15 at the time.

Schmitz, who once oversaw recruitment of new priests for the archdiocese, faces criminal charges in Douglas and Nemaha counties in Kansas for allegedly taking indecent liberties with the boy.

According to the civil lawsuit, the alleged acts caused the victim to suffer "mental anguish, severe mental distress, medical expenses, and loss of time and income."

The archdiocese is named as a co-defendant, the lawsuit says, because it was negligent and reckless in its training, supervision and control of Schmitz. The archdiocese "knew or should have known of defendant Schmitz's proclivity for inappropriate sexual contact with minors," the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit also says the archdiocese was negligent in placing Schmitz in the position of vocations director, which allowed him to travel and have extensive contact with minors. Once the archdiocese learned about Schmitz's behavior, the lawsuit alleges, it "failed to promptly repudiate" the conduct.

The alleged victim, who is now 18, seeks a jury trial and damages in excess of $75,000.

Schmitz has referred questions to his attorney, Stephen Mirakian.

"As long as the criminal matter is still proceeding, I don't think it would be appropriate for me to comment on the civil allegations," Mirakian said Tuesday.

The plaintiff's lawyer, Eugene Ralston of Topeka, did not return phone calls.

The Rev. Charles McGlinn, the archdiocese's vicar general for personnel, denied that church officials failed to react promptly to the allegations against Schmitz. "That definitely is not true," McGlinn said. "We immediately removed him as soon as we found out."

The archdiocese in May relieved Schmitz of his duties in parishes in Marysville and Beattie in northeast Kansas.

John J. Jurcyk Jr., attorney for the archdiocese, said he was still reviewing the lawsuit.

"And we're continuing, as we have in the past, to cooperate with the civil authorities," he said.

The criminal cases, filed in June, allege that Schmitz engaged in lewd fondling of a 15-year-old boy between Jan. 1 and Aug. 1, 1999, at S&S Ranch in Nemaha County. Schmitz is a co-owner of the ranch. He faces similar charges, involving the same alleged victim, in Douglas County.

Schmitz's arraignment in the Nemaha County case is scheduled for Aug. 29. A preliminary hearing in the Douglas County case is scheduled for next Wednesday.

A popular priest among young people, Schmitz served several Johnson County parishes throughout the 1990s, including St. Ann's in Prairie Village, Queen of the Holy Rosary in Overland Park and St. Joseph's in Shawnee. He also led numerous retreats for the archdiocese.

 
 

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