Concerns Were Voiced about Priest
Relationships Made Students, Alter Parents Uneasy
By Jim DeBrosse
Dayton Daily News [Ohio]
September 15, 2002
As pastor at Incarnation Church and chaplain to the Alter High School freshman basketball team, the Rev. Thomas A. Kuhn was known for lavishing attention on his favorite young male students.
One student said Kuhn gave him a $100 bill and took him to an expensive restaurant for private dinners. To another student headed to college, he provided a $2,000 computer. To those old enough to drive, he offered the use of his SUV and gas credit card.
On numerous occasions, he took individual elementary school-age boys to his home during class hours, where he sometimes served them breakfast or doughnuts, according to the principal who said he confronted him about the practice.
Kuhn also had Alter students come to his home to watch television or a movie alone with him and, in at least one case, to drink alcohol with him. And while no boy has said Kuhn molested him, two have complained of being touched in ways that made them uncomfortable.
In 1997, one student alleged that Kuhn slipped his hand inside the back of the youth's pants, said a source familiar with the student's complaint. Kuhn, 61, who resigned last week as pastor at St. Henry Church in Miami Twp., has been under investigation by Montgomery County law enforcement officials since May 21, when sheriff's deputies confiscated several computers from the St. Henry parish center.
Officials in the sheriff's and county prosecutor's offices won't disclose what prompted the investigation. But some parents, former students and former educators at Incarnation and Alter, as well as one Kettering priest, are voicing their concerns about Kuhn. They're upset that Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk wrote a Sept. 5 letter to St. Henry parish stating that Kuhn "is guiltless of any misbehavior."
"Over the years, a lot of parents have talked to me. There's great concern over Father Kuhn's obsession with young boys," said the Rev. Monsignor Lawrence Breslin, pastor at St. Charles Borromeo Church, which stands adjacent to Alter High School in Kettering.
Kuhn could not be reached Friday. His lawyer, Roger Makley, declined to comment.
Breslin said he is very upset with the way archdiocesan officials have handled the complaints against Kuhn, which began as early as 1994 when Kuhn was pastor at Incarnation Church in Centerville.
"I think the Archbishop's letter absolutely stretches credulity," Breslin said. "I am so angry about this. I feel these children and their parents have been so misused and abused by the church I can no longer hold back."
Pilarczyk was out of town Friday and unavailable for comment, said Dan Andriacco, spokesman for the archdiocese. However, Andriacco said the archbishop has been surprised by the reaction to his letter.
The sentence stating that Kuhn is guiltless "refers to the legal case," Andriacco said. "(The archbishop) was saying Tom Kuhn was innocent of any crimes until proven guilty. Anybody who reads that sentence as having a broader implication beyond the legal case . . . is misreading it."
But Breslin and parents at Alter say the archdiocese shouldn't have waited until there was a criminal investigation of Kuhn before acting. Kuhn was put on administrative leave by the archdiocese on the same day sheriff's deputies confiscated the computers at St. Henry.
Mike Knellinger, an Alter parent and basketball coach, said he complained to archdiocesan officials about not acting sooner. "I said, 'Why are you waiting for the police when your own decree on child protection has been trampled?' "
Andriacco said neither the archdiocese nor the prosecutor's office "can act on hearsay, rumors, innuendo and unproven allegations."
He declined to discuss specifics of parents' complaints. "I'm not going to get into the details of anything (the parents) told the archdiocese in confidence. Obviously, they can if they wish to, but we're not in a position to do that."
Because of concerns about Kuhn's dealings with male students, Breslin and another Kettering priest twice went to archdiocesan authorities seeking to block Kuhn's expected appointment as principal at Alter High School, Breslin said.
Kuhn has never been principal at Alter, although he coached the golf team and taught some classes there, as well as volunteering as chaplain to the freshman basketball team. From 1967 to 1988, Kuhn was a teacher and later principal at Elder High School in Cincinnati. "There was never allegations of sexual abuse while he was Elder High School," Andriacco said.
During the past five years, however, Breslin said at least four sets of Alter parents have come to talk to him about the unusual attention Kuhn paid their sons. The first instance five years ago was a man who complained that Kuhn had been lavishing expensive gifts and dinners on his son, including a $2,000 computer Kuhn gave him to take to college, Breslin said.
Complaints about Kuhn's behavior have been voiced to archdiocesan officials at least since 1994. That's when Mary Lou Arons, a former English teacher at Alter, said she told the archdiocese that one of her former students who had graduated the year before had come to talk to her about his concerns regarding his relationship with Kuhn.
"He was very upset about it. . . . The young man felt that (Father) Tom was touching him in ways that were unacceptable - not necessarily sexual, but certainly made the kid feel uncomfortable," she said. "The kid worked for Tom and he would come up behind him and rub his shoulders and rub his back.
"He would say things like, 'Young man, you don't have to do that work now. Let's go watch a movie.' And he would go in the dark and watch movies with Kuhn," Arons said. "(The former student) was telling me this because he didn't want it to happen to his younger brother."
Arons reported the youth's story to then-superintendent of Dayton area Catholic schools, Mike McCormick, who said he in turn reported it to his superiors in Cincinnati. No official action was taken against Kuhn because the boys' parents "were very good friends of Tom and they talked (the youth) out of it," Arons said.
Three years later, in 1997, Kuhn was interviewed by investigators at Montgomery County Children's Services after a student at Alter told two teachers that Kuhn had stuck his hand inside the back of the boy's pants, according to a source familiar with the allegations. Alter principal Walt Klimaski reported the allegations both to the archdiocese and to Children's Services.
Ann Stevens, a spokeswoman for Children's Services, confirmed that Kuhn was interviewed there in 1997 but said that the content of the interview is confidential and could not be released. Klimaski, who was later replaced as principal at Alter, has been cooperating with the sheriff's investigation. He declined to comment for this story. What, if anything, came of the allegations against Kuhn is unknown.
This year, one parent at Alter was so concerned about her 17-year-old son's relationship with Kuhn that she insisted on, and received, a letter from the archdiocese ordering Kuhn to stay away from the boy. The mother has asked that she and her son not be identified.
The Feb. 6, 2002, letter is addressed to Kuhn and signed by the chancellor and legal chief of the archdiocese, the Rev. Christopher R. Armstrong. It states in part: "On or about January 17, 2002, you were at your home watching a movie with (the Alter student) without any other adults being present. This is a clear violation of the provision of the (archdiocesan) Decree on Child Protection. (The youth's mother) also noted that you allowed (the youth) to use your car without (her) permission."
Armstrong's letter to Kuhn concluded by saying, "Therefore, you are to have no contact whatsoever with (the youth). If you have any questions about this, do not hesitate to contact me. You remain in my prayers."
Prior to the letter being issued by the archdiocese, the mother said, Kuhn had lent her son the use of his SUV and gas credit card for a six-day period, leaving the keys for him in Alter's front office. Kuhn never informed her of the loan to her son, his mother said. In fact, she said, Kuhn had never introduced himself either to her or to the boy's father.
The mother said she had no idea of her son's relationship with Kuhn until she found a message from Kuhn to her son one evening on the family's answering machine. She called Kuhn's house and discovered that her 17-year-old son was there alone with the priest.
"I said to (Kuhn), 'Is my son there?' He said, 'Yes.' I said, 'Can I talk to him?' He put the phone down and I could hear him shout, 'Do you want to talk to your mother?' "
The youth came to the phone and told his mother he was watching a movie with Kuhn. The mother told her son to leave the house. He later did.
The mother became more concerned about her son's contact with Kuhn after she went out of town with her son the following weekend and Kuhn called the home several times to ask where her son was. "He was almost frantic with my husband," she said.
That week, the mother called friends and staff at Alter High School and learned that others had worries about Kuhn as well. That's when she called Children's Services, who advised her to get the police to accompany her to Kuhn's house and request that he not see her son anymore. But when she told school officials that she planned to confront Kuhn, she said she was told he had checked himself into an alcohol rehabilitation program at Kettering Medical Center.
Several weeks later, the archdiocese sent Kuhn to a clinic in Rochester, Minn., to undergo rehabilitation therapy for his drinking problem. While in the clinic, Kuhn called her son at home to get his e-mail address.
The mother then insisted on the letter from the archdiocese ordering Kuhn to stay away from her son.
"I had to put a stop to it," she said. "The most devastating thing that I know this man does is he puts a wedge between parents and their children."
An 18-year-old Alter graduate now in college said Kuhn first befriended him while both were attending a four-day retreat for Alter students at Bergamo Center. The youth, a high school senior at the time, was the student leader of the retreat. "He was really very nice to me," the youth recalled. "He said, 'You know, you're one of the best (retreat) leaders I've ever seen.' Really encouraging kind of stuff."
Soon after, Kuhn began inviting the student out for dinners at the Paragon Restaurant. "He said, 'I eat dinner at the Paragon every Sunday night. Would you like to join me?' Heck, yeah! Free dinner at the Paragon? That's no problem."
The youth said, "I guess it did cross my mind that it was really weird, that he's a priest and all that, but I went anyway and we had some good conversations. It was usually like personal stuff. We talked about everything from like my relationships to my parents. Lots of stuff."
Later, the youth said, Kuhn began giving him gifts and money. "He'd come by on Friday morning and give me free tickets to the football game that night. Then he'd give me a $20 bill and ask if I needed anything for the weekend. I thought that was pretty cool."
The youth said at various times Kuhn offered him the use of his car, a free cell phone and even an expensive video recording system, called TiVo, for Christmas. The youth said he declined them all.
Kuhn often invited the youth to come back to his home after their dinners together at the Paragon, the youth said, but he said he refused until one evening they decided to watch a football game together. That's when Kuhn gave
him a beer, he said."He said, 'You want anything to drink?' I said,
'Sure.' He got a beer out of the refrigerator and gave it to me. And we watched the end of the football game together." The youth said he left Kuhn's house that night without incident.
The youth said his father didn't know about the closeness of his relationship with Kuhn until the youth showed his father a $100 bill Kuhn had given to him. "One time he was going off to Las Vegas and I made a joke with him. I said, 'I want 10 percent of everything you win.' I thought it was a joke, but he comes back and he gives me a $100 bill."
The youth showed the money to his father. "I said, 'Look what Father Kuhn gave me.' My dad said, 'That's not really good.' "
The boy's father ordered him to stay away from Kuhn and then complained about Kuhn to both the school and to the archdiocese.
"I was told (by the archdiocese) that he would be kept away from Alter High School," the father said.
But on the youth's birthday, Kuhn showed up at the school and visited with him there, the father said.
Complaints against Kuhn began even before he became chaplain to the boys' freshman basketball team at Alter.
In the early 1990s, while Kuhn was pastor at Incarnation Church, Frank Mattia, former principal at Incarnation Elementary School, said he confronted Kuhn for keeping altar boys out of class following school Masses and returning them up to a half hour late for school. Mattia said Kuhn also would come to Incarnation Elementary during school hours and pull individual male students from classes and take them to his home.
"He was taking them either for breakfast or doughnuts (after Mass). It went from two boys down to one boy at a time. It was never the (altar) girls," Mattia said. After parents began complaining, "I confronted him with this situation. I said, 'At the very least, it looks bad.' He fired back, 'Why, are you accusing me of something?' I said, 'I'm not accusing you of anything. I'm just telling you it looks bad.' "
Even after their talk, Kuhn still would pull individual boys from class and take them to his home. "Occasionally, he would come in and pull rank and say he wanted to see (a particular boy) or see another student," Mattia said. "I gave orders to the teachers. None of the students were to go to Father Kuhn's house without my being contacted."
Mattia, however, said he never heard any concrete complaints from students or parents. "I can't really tell you a parent came to me and said I think this priest may have probably done something with my child."
But one of the young altar boys that Kuhn frequently had in his home at Incarnation was the same youth who came to Mary Lou Arons a year after his graduation from Alter and told her he was troubled by his relationship with Kuhn.
Arons said she decided to go public with her concerns about Kuhn because, "I just don't think you can be worried about yourself in a situation like this. Young people are at risk here. Whether (Father) Tom has been sexually involved with these kids or not, Tom has certainly crossed the line according to what these students have told me."
Contact Jim DeBrosse at 225-2437 or email@example.com
The Rev. Thomas A. Kuhn
• Grew up in the Dayton View area and graduated from Chaminade High School in 1959.
• Ordained at Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Norwood, 1967.
• Assigned to Elder High School in Cincinnati, 1967 to 1988, where he was a teacher for five years, vice principal for nine years and principal for seven years.
• Served as pastor at Incarnation Church in Centerville, 1989 to 2001.
• Taught physics at Alter High School in Kettering, 1992 to 1995.
• Served as golf team coach at Alter, 1996, and volunteered as chaplain to boys' freshman basketball team, 1999 to 2002.
• Appointed pastor at St. Henry Church in Miami Twp., May 200l.
• Put on administrative leave by archdiocese, May 21, 2002, on same day sheriff's office launches investigation.
• Resigns officially as pastor at St. Henry, Sept. 4, 2002.
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