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  Bishop: Priest Won't Be Reassigned in Tulsa

By Ziva Branstetter
Tulsa World [Oklahoma]
September 19, 2002

Kenneth Lewis won't get a new parish here although no charges were filed. A priest who was the subject of a sexual abuse investigation will not be reassigned in the Tulsa diocese, a spokesman for Bishop Edward Slattery said Wednesday.

The Rev. Kenneth Lewis will not receive a new parish assignment despite a statement by District Attorney Tim Harris that charges will not be filed, said the Rev. Michael Knipe, a spokesman for Slattery.

"Father Lewis will not receive another assignment. Priests do have the right to transfer, but in order to do that, they need a letter of recommendation from their bishop, and I can't imagine that happening in this case," Knipe said.

In a Wednesday interview with KTUL, Channel 8, Lewis said he still hopes to work as a priest.

"I'm always going to be a priest," Lewis said. "Whether I'll be able to exercise my priestly ministry is not a question that I can answer."

"I hope that at some point in the future I can return to the priesthood. It may not be any time real soon."

Lewis also complained about the wording of a Tuesday statement from Harris announcing his decision not to file charges.

Harris said his decision was based on the statute of limitations, which restricts his ability to file charges in old cases.

Lewis said Harris' statement made it appear that he wasn't charged because of a legal loophole.

Harris declined to say Wednesday whether he would have filed charges in alleged sexual abuse cases involving Catholic priests if the statute of limitations not been a factor.

Police said they believe that a case could have been made.

When asked directly if he could have made a case if it weren't for the statute of limitations, Harris said the issue is "an ethical horns-of-a-dilemma type thing."

Commenting on the case could put him at risk of defaming the reputations of those who have been investigated but not charged, Harris said.

Deputy Police Chief Dave Been said he believes that the police task force that investigated the cases found evidence of a potential crime.

"We felt like we had a good case to present. The discussion was had that the statute of limitations would be a factor. If you consider that a technicality, I guess it was."

Although Oklahoma expanded its statute of limitations involving child sexual abuse two years ago, Harris said the allegations concerning the priests still fell outside the new statute.

He said he also examined how prosecutors in other communities have gotten around the statute of limitations. In most of those cases, Harris said the priests have lived outside of the jurisdiction for some time, which essentially stopped the clock on the statute of limitations.

"Believe me, I looked at this every way possible, ... and none of those factors were evident in this investigation."

While Harris and police have declined to name the priests, a Tuesday press release from the diocese states that Harris' decision "appears to conclude all investigations by the civil authorities into allegations of misconduct by Father Ken Lewis and Father Paul Eichhoff, since these are the only investigations of which we are aware."

Lewis resigned from his McAlester church in July following the Tulsa Diocese's renewed investigation into abuse allegations against him. That investigation involved conduct by Lewis in 1994, when he was associate pastor of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Tulsa.

Eichhoff, pastor of St. Cecilia Church in Claremore, was placed on administrative leave Aug. 1 following allegations that he engaged in sexual conduct with two minors 25 years ago at St. Mary's in Tulsa.

Lewis and Eichhoff have denied the allegations. Eichhoff has filed a slander lawsuit against his accuser in Tulsa County District Court.

Two men who were interviewed by Tulsa police regard ing Lewis' conduct said Wednesday that they were disappointed with Harris' decision not to file charges and with the way the diocese handled the case.

Diocese officials were told in 1994 that a fully clothed Lewis had been found in bed with a 12-year-old boy, rubbing the boy's back under his pajama top. A former church co-worker said Lewis left abruptly after she found him in bed with the boy.

After conducting their own investigation, diocese officials decided that no crime had occurred, and the matter was not reported to police. The diocese sent Lewis to a psychiatric facility for evaluation and later returned him to active ministry, telling him not to be alone with children.

One of the men interviewed by police said Wednesday that "the church, I feel, didn't ask the right questions in the beginning. I think it's because they really didn't want to know what happened."

The man said he has attended counseling and is taking antidepressant medications to deal with the emotional trauma of his experience with the priest.

"The right thing for them to do was to own up to this and say, 'We've got a problem,' " he said. "They aren't interested in the truth."

A second man who also was interviewed by police said he was frightened and disappointed by the outcome of the case.

"I am sad that it came to a matter of timing," he said. "I'm just scared and sad about how our justice system can just let something like this go."

The parents of a third man who was interviewed by police regarding Lewis said they were also shaken by the experience.

"I am angry that perpetrators and church officials will rob people of their faith, and I will not allow it to happen to me," said the mother, who asked that her name not be used.

"It's my church, and they are not going to take it from me," she said. "I trusted the church, and I thought they would do the right thing."

 
 

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