Suit Alleges Abuse by Priest Led Man to Suicide
But His Cocaine Overdose Was Ruled an Accident
By Tim Bryant
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
June 11, 2003
A suit believed to be a first for Missouri courts claims that a former Marine killed himself in St. Louis this spring because as a child he had suffered years of sexual abuse by a Roman Catholic priest.
Christopher J. Klump took a deliberate cocaine overdose shortly after learning it was too late under the statute of limitations to file criminal charges against the Rev. Michael S. McGrath, Klump's father said Tuesday.
"This sent Chris into a manic state of depression," said the father, Allen Klump of south St. Louis County. "Shortly thereafter, Christopher took his own life so that he could finally silence the demons that were unleashed by Father McGrath and harbored by the Catholic hierarchy."
Allen Klump is the plaintiff in a wrongful death suit filed in St. Louis Circuit Court, seeking unspecified damages from McGrath, the Archdiocese of St. Louis and Archbishop Justin Rigali.
It is one of just a few suits nationwide claiming a link between a death and priestly abuse. Those close to this case said they were aware of no others in Missouri.
Monsignor Richard Stika, the archdiocese's vicar general, had no reaction to the specific allegations in the suit, saying they needed to be reviewed and seen by church lawyers.
Stika said McGrath was removed from active priesthood in 1997 over complaints of "improper contact with minors." The archdiocese had fewer than 10 complaints of abuse by McGrath, said Stika, adding he knew nothing of the Klump family's claim that a private investigator had found 146 abuse victims.
Stika said Klump's death was tragic, adding, "Time and time again we've offered counseling assistance to Chris and his family."
McGrath has no assignment in the church, said Stika. He said the archdiocese would take steps to formally remove him from the priesthood.
McGrath could not be located for comment.
Christopher J. Klump was found dead in his room at the Sheraton Suites hotel, 400 South 14th Street, on March 2. His death certificate, provided by family lawyers, showed that the immediate cause of death was "cocaine-induced agitated delirium." The death was ruled accidental, the certificate said.
But family members said Klump had attempted suicide twice before and wa s depressed over the sexual abuse. They said that before taking the overdose, Christopher Klump had put on a Mardi Gras party for friends at the hotel, telling them he had a terminal illness and would be dead in weeks.
McGrath, 57, is accused in the suit of abusing Klump between about 1984 and 1987, while on various outings.
The archdiocese said McGrath was ordained in 1975 and served in seven parishes in the St. Louis area, including St. Simon the Apostle in Concord Village.
The suit alleges that while at St. Simon, McGrath had unlawful sexual contact with Klump during youth group trips and other activities for children from several parishes. Christopher Klump, one of 13 children in his family, was a parishioner at St. Bernadette Catholic Church near Jefferson Barracks.
McGrath's "sexual exploitation," starting when Klump was a fourth-grader, caused him "to develop certain psychological coping mechanisms," the suit claims.
Christopher Klump was unaware of his condition's connection to the sexu al abuse until early last year, the suit states.
Klump joined the Marine Corps after graduating from Mehlville High School in 1991. Six years later, he left the service with an honorable discharge. A brief marriage ended in divorce. He had no children.
In 1986, McGrath, then at St. Simon, was profiled in the Post-Dispatch for donating his time to drive more than two dozen students to and from classes at four high schools. At the time, he told a reporter that his bus service subsidized the students' education and helped their parents.
McGrath drove a Bi-State bus after leaving the active priesthood, Stika said.
Stika said he had telephoned McGrath in the spring to tell him of Christopher Klump's death. McGrath was "very quiet" on hearing the news, Stika said. A few days later, McGrath called back to inquire about the Klump family's well-being, Stika said.
Klump's oldest sister, Jane Hayden, said McGrath had been a trusted family friend who conducted her wedding ceremony.
"However, my entire family was betrayed by his seemingly kind ways, and his collar," Hayden said. "My heart is sad and full of grief over the loss of my brother, but my heart also aches from the children who will be abused today by another pedophile pretending to be a priest."
Asked about Klump's interest in prosecuting McGrath, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce declined to discuss the case Tuesday. She said that the suit was a civil matter.
Similar civil suits have been filed in Los Angeles, Dallas and Boston.
The parents of a 36 year-old man who hanged himself last year sued the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in April. They claimed their son committed suicide because he suffered emotionally from childhood sexual abuse by a Catholic brother, the Los Angeles Times reported.
In Dallas, relatives of a man who committed suicide joined a wrongful death suit against the Diocese of Dallas. A priest allegedly molested the man in the 1980s, The Dallas Morning News reported.
A similar case was filed in Boston by the family of a man who died in 2001 of a cocaine overdose.
Mark Klump, an older brother of Christopher Klump's, said he wanted to establish an independent facility for treatment of abuse victims. "I envision driving through the gates where a statue of Chris is welcoming all survivors," he said.
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