Wayward Priest Dropped from Sex Abuse Lawsuit

By Manny Gonzales
San Antonio Express-News [Texas]
February 19, 2003

A woman who accused a local pastor of sexually assaulting her in front of her two children dropped her lawsuit against him Tuesday, but will continue to seek millions of dollars from the archdiocese this week in state district court.

Julia Villegas Phelps claims she was medicated when Father Michael Kenny made a visit to her home in 1989. She says he took advantage of her debilitated state and had sex with her in the presence of her two pre-teen sons. A four-year "sexual" relationship ensued - one that was partially or entirely non-consensual, her attorneys say.

"She feared for the well-being of her children if this got out," Phelps' attorney J. Douglas Sutter said. "Father Kenny even told her that if it gets out, what's been going on, that it would be really bad for her and her children."

On Tuesday, lawyers picked the jury that will hear the dispute.

Phelps says the Archdiocese of San Antonio negligently turned a blind eye to Kenny's behavior; church officials deny the claim.

"We didn't know about the relationship, and we didn't have any reason to suspect anything," the archdiocese's attorney Jim Drought said.

Drought also noted that the allegations arose a decade after the fact, and he added: "I think this is just an opportunity for her to get some money."

Archbishop Patrick Flores suspended Kenny in July 2000 amid allegations of sexual impropriety raised by Phelps and a longtime archdiocese secretary who alleged Kenny seduced her when she was a teenager.

Kenny, who served as an assistant pastor at St. Vincent de Paul Parish and pastor at Resurrection of the Lord Parish, has admitted to sexual relations with Phelps and at least six other women.

Kenny has since moved to Ireland to live near family. He is expected to travel to San Antonio this week and to testify that the affair was morally unjust but not against the law, his attorney Bob Rush said.

"He is looking forward to finally getting out his side to this story," Rush said. "This case, he'll tell you, is about two adults having an affair and that's it. He may have been violating his oath of celibacy, but this is not a case of sexual abuse."

Opening arguments are expected to get under way this morning in 73rd District Judge Andy Mireles' court.

The plaintiff's attorney said the suit against Kenny was dropped for two reasons: Because he admitted the relationship happened and because he's destitute.

Early court filings show that Phelps' attorneys could ask a jury for up to $18 million in damages from the archdiocese. But her attorneys say it's doubtful that amount will be sought.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.
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