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  Diocese Settles Sex Abuse Case
Kansan Pursues Suit against Priest

By Diane Carroll
Kansas City Star
June 21, 2003

The Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas has agreed to pay an undisclosed sum to a 19-year-old man sexually abused by a priest in 1998.

The two sides confirmed this week that they had settled out of court earlier this year after the Johnson County teenager filed a lawsuit against the archdiocese and the former Rev. Dennis Schmitz. The teenager's attorney said he now is in the early stages of pursuing a civil suit against Schmitz.

Schmitz, 42, a popular priest who served in several Kansas City area parishes, is serving 32 months in prison after he pleaded guilty last September to taking indecent liberties with a child. He is the only area priest who has faced criminal charges since the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church erupted in January 2002.

Archdiocesan attorney John Jurcyk Jr. said the amount of the settlement was "nowhere in the ballpark" of the $2 million the victim requested, and was "substantially less than $1 million."

The young man's attorney, Eugene Ralston, replied: "Whatever they want to say about what they paid is up to them. I feel that it was a substantial figure."

Jurcyk said the settlement was made without any admission of wrongdoing.

The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph has one sexual abuse lawsuit pending against it, according to the Rev. Patrick Rush, the diocese's vicar general. A California man sued the diocese and retired priest Sylvester Hoppe a year ago, claiming Hoppe abused him in the 1950s.

Hoppe denied the allegations, Rush said Thursday, and has since died. Rush said the lawsuit could be heard in California as early as August.

The Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas has no pending lawsuits now that it has been dismissed as a defendant in the Schmitz case, said the Rev. Charles McGlinn, vicar general for personnel.

The archdiocese did not sign a confidentiality agreement in the Schmitz settlement, Jurcyk said. However, it has a policy of not commenting on settlement amounts, said the Rev. Tom Tank, the archdiocese's vicar general.

The settlement money came from an insurance policy, not parishioner contributions, Tank said.

Ralston, the attorney for the young man, said he could not reveal the amount because his client asked him not to.

In pleading guilty last September in Douglas County District Court, Schmitz said he had invited the then-15-year-old boy to spend the night at his residence. Schmitz said he touched the boy inappropriately while they shared a bed.

In December, Schmitz pleaded guilty in Nemaha County District Court to two counts of indecent solicitation of a minor. He said he solicited the same boy in 1999 at the S&S Ranch he co-owned in Nemaha County, along the Nebraska border in northeastern Kansas. He was granted probation on those counts.

Schmitz's attorney, Stephen Mirakian, filed notice in January with the Kansas Court of Appeals that he would appeal Schmitz's 32-month sentence. But in March, Mirakian told the court he would not pursue the appeal.

In the civil lawsuit filed last summer, the victim claimed that the archdiocese was "negligent and reckless in its training, supervision and control" of Schmitz. The archdiocese knew or should have known of Schmitz's "proclivity for inappropriate sexual contact with minors," said the lawsuit, filed in Douglas County District Court.

The lawsuit also contended that the archdiocese was negligent and reckless in placing Schmitz in a position as vocations director. The position allowed Schmitz to travel to various areas and have extensive contact with minors, the lawsuit said.

Ralston said this week that he was trying to take depositions in the civil lawsuit against Schmitz. The case is in the discovery phase, he said, and could go to trial.

Schmitz is being held in a minimum security unit at the Lansing Correctional Facility. He is eligible for a 15 percent reduction in his sentence based on good behavior, state corrections spokesman Bill Miskell said. His earliest possible release date is Jan. 24, 2005.

Schmitz was ordained in 1989. He served in several area parishes, including St. Ann's in Prairie Village, Queen of the Holy Rosary in Overland Park and St. Joseph's in Shawnee. Schmitz also was known for founding the Runnin' Revs, a group of basketball-playing priests.

The archdiocese removed Schmitz from his duties as a priest a year ago in May.

 
 

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