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  Priest Sex Abuse Alleged
Suit Is 1st against Archdiocese of Indianapolis

By Deborah Yetter
Courier-Journal [Louisville KY]
August 30, 2002

A Southern Indiana woman has filed a lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis, alleging she was sexually abused by a priest in the 1960s while she was a teen-ager.

June L. Kochert alleges in the first such lawsuit to be filed against the archdiocese that the Rev. John B. Schoettelkotte sexually abused her from about 1964 to 1967 while he was a priest at St. Mary's Church in New Albany.

Kochert's lawsuit, filed yesterday in Floyd Superior Court, alleges that she has complained to church officials three times about Schoettelkotte - the first time in 1969 - but no action was taken until this year.

Schoettelkotte, 68, was removed from pastoral duties in June following the national meeting of the Catholic bishops in Dallas during which they adopted new, tougher policies for removing priests who sexually abuse children. Schoettelkotte could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Kochert's lawyers, Larry O. Wilder of Jeffersonville and Kyle P. Williams of New Albany, said yesterday that Kochert is frustrated by the fact that it took church officials so long to act on her complaints.

"She has tried three times over the . . . years," Williams said in an interview. "This last time, somebody actually took her seriously." Kochert wasn't available for comment yesterday.

Susan Borcherts, communications officer for the archdiocese, said yesterday that Schoettelkotte has been placed on administrative leave from his most recent job at St. Isadore the Farmer parish in Bristow and Holy Cross parish in St. Croix, Ind., pending resolution of his case.

She said the archdiocese doesn't comment on pending litigation.

The lawsuit claims the archdiocese is liable for Schoettelkotte because church officials knew he had engaged in a pattern of sexually abusing young women but concealed it and failed to report it to authorities. The suit offers no proof of those allegations.

Kochert's lawsuit alleges the abuse began when she was around 15. She was a devout Catholic who was considering becoming a nun. The lawsuit said she attended Mass daily and Schoettelkotte often would officiate at the service.

The suit said that through speaking with Kochert after the Mass, Schoettelkotte gained her trust and began escalating the sexual nature of his contact with her. What began as sexual talk turned into sexual contact, the lawsuit said.

It said he would touch her inappropriately, had her sit on his lap and fondled her breasts and genitals. Schoettelkotte also asked Kochert to bring a bathing suit to church and photographed her wearing it, the lawsuit said.

The sexual contact ended, the lawsuit said, when Kochert left the parish to attend St. Mary's in Terre Haute to pursue her goal of becoming a nun. She decided not to do so and returned to New Albany in 1968, it said.

In 1969, Kochert consulted with another priest at St. Augustine Church in Jeffersonville who advised her to make a formal complaint about Schoettlekotte to church officials, the lawsuit said. However, church officials took no action, the lawsuit said.

It said that in 1971, Kochert moved to Bloomington and encountered Schoettelkotte, who was assigned at the Newman Center for students at Indiana University. Schoettelkotte attempted to resume his contact with Kochert and she refused, the lawsuit said.

It said that in 1989, after years of therapy and learning Schoettelkotte had been moved to various parishes and other institutions that brought him into contact with young women, she again complained to church officials.

At that time, the previous archbishop met with Kochert and told her that Schoettelkotte would receive counseling and church officials would "keep an eye on him." The lawsuit does not name the archbishop, but the Most Rev. Edward T. O'Meara preceded the current archbishop, the Most Rev. Daniel Buechlein, appointed in 1992 after O'Meara's death.

But Schoettelkotte continued to be assigned to parishes and was never disciplined, the lawsuit said.

This year, after the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted new policies in the face of the church's burgeoning sexual abuse scandal, Kochert renewed her complaint, the lawsuit said.

The archdiocese conducted an investigation and Schoettelkotte admitted the abuse, the lawsuit said. It said church officials then reported the allegations to authorities.

Kochert's lawyers said she is filing the lawsuit in part to make the point that she tried to report the allegations, but for many years, no one listened.

"This gives her a chance to stand up and get some kind of vindication," Wilder said.

 
 

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