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  Archdiocese to Pay $300,000
Woman Will Receive Settlement after Claiming Sexual Assault

By Manny Gonzales
San Antonio Express-News [Texas]
February 21, 2003

The Archdiocese of San Antonio will pay a woman $300,000 to settle her lawsuit about claims that her pastor sexually assaulted her and that Archbishop Patrick Flores ignored her pleas for help.

The settlement cut short a trial that began two days earlier and came hours into the archbishop's testimony, which was marked by tense exchanges between the plaintiff's lawyer and the city's highest-ranking Catholic cleric.

Afterward, Flores described the agreement, which 73rd District Judge Andy Mireles approved Thursday, as driven by compassion for the plaintiff, Julie Villegas Phelps.

Meanwhile, Phelps and her attorneys said they intend to push for a change of leadership in the archdiocese by filing a similar complaint with the highest church court in Rome."The rules were broken and they were not followed," Phelps' attorney J. Douglas Sutter said. "It's time to clean up this shop."

Phelps sued claiming she was ignored when she sought help in dealing with Father Michael Kenny, her pastor at Resurrection of the Lord Parish.

She alleged that in 1989 Kenny had intercourse with her while she was medicated in her home and in the presence of her pre-teen sons. The boys were traumatized and lost their religious faith because of what they witnessed, she said.

Kenny admitted having sexual relations with Phelps during the next four years, but the pastor denied doing anything against her will. He has since been removed from clerical duties and currently resides in Ireland.

The archdiocese stood to lose up to $18 million if the jury sided with Phelps. However, four jurors interviewed later said they were leaning toward the archbishop's side.

"It takes two to tango, and if (sex) only happened once to her then it's rape," juror Jim Rhodes said. "But it happened many times over four years."

Phelps said she felt "vindicated."

"When you go to church it's supposed to be safe," she said.

The archbishop said the settlement was made out of compassion for the plaintiffs.

Archdiocese attorney Jim Drought, who complained that Phelps' allegations to the archdiocese came 10 years after the fact, was less compassionate: "Ten years later she saw the opportunity to come out, and this was about money."

He also pointed out that Phelps had sent Kenny a letter around 1993, threatening to go to the media if the pastor did not pay her more than $6,000.

The settlement punctuated nearly four hours of fiery testimony from Flores, who wore his priest's collar and told jurors he knew nothing about Kenny's affair with the plaintiff until after he suspended the pastor in 2000.

He said he ordered the suspension a week after hearing similar allegations made by another woman, a former archdiocese secretary, and when the pastor finally confessed to having sex with women. Flores testified that the suspension was in line with the archdiocese rules, while the lawyer Sutter insinuated that the archbishop shirked his own responsibilities.

"You never closely monitored (Kenny), supervised or even asked someone else to do it, did you?" Sutter asked Flores.

Flores: "No."

Sutter: "You violated your own policies, didn't you?"

"No, I didn't," Flores replied, sternly. "I don't have a jail to lock him up in."

 
 

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