Priest Tied to Abuse in L.a., Tucson
By Stephanie Innes
Arizona Daily Star (Tucson)
October 25, 2003
The Rev. Kevin Barmasse had already been accused of child molesting in Los Angeles in 1983 when the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson assigned him to lead youth groups, first in Sierra Vista and then at a church on the Northwest Side.
Barmasse, 48, is the key figure in a new wave of lawsuits against the diocese that could add more expenses to a sexual abuse scandal that has already cost the diocese millions. Lawyers say Barmasse engaged in "sacramental" sexual abuse with teen boys, now men in their 30s, during prayer.
Diocese officials have not yet seen the four lawsuits naming Barmasse that were filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court Oct. 3. But Barmasse's name is on a list of 25 clerics with "credible" allegations of child sexual abuse that the local diocese has made public.
"The Kevin Barmasse cases are very important. They clearly and unequivocally demonstrate the secret world of sexual cover-up going on in Western dioceses through the 1990s," said John Manly, an attorney based in Costa Mesa, Calif., who filed the lawsuits along with Tucson attorney Lynne M. Cadigan against the Diocese of Tucson and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
Manly anticipates filing at least four more lawsuits naming Barmasse in California. The state has removed the statute of limitations on old cases of sexual abuse for a year. Victims can file legal actions until Dec. 31 no matter when the abuse occurred.
As a result, the Los Angeles Archdiocese has been hit with hundreds of lawsuits, said archdiocese attorney Michael Hennigan. He has not yet seen the Barmasse cases.
"It is a bit challenging for us with a couple of hundred other lawsuits," Hennigan said. "Father Barmasse is not in active ministry and has not been for some time. His request to return to active ministry was denied in 1999."
For a lawsuit to be filed against a diocese in another state is "rare," according to David Early, a spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The only case that Early could recall involved the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. It was sued in California over the Rev. Siegfried Widera, who was accused of molesting a boy in Orange County in 1976 after the priest had been transferred from Milwaukee. Widera killed himself in May.
In a letter to parishioners, Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas said the Tucson diocese accepted Barmasse for ministry with the understanding that he'd get treatment related to an accusation of sexual misconduct with a minor. Documents show the priest got treatment and the professional who treated him believed he would be able to minister safely, yet urged caution.
Kicanas said Barmasse should not have been allowed to minister in Tucson or anywhere else, and that such an arrangement would not be allowed today.
Barmasse was ordained a priest for the Los Angeles Archdiocese in 1982 after graduating from St. John's Seminary in Camarillo, Calif. His assignments in the Diocese of Tucson were at St. Andrew the Apostle in Sierra Vista from 1983 to 1986, at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton on the Northwest Side between 1986 and 1988 and at Blessed Sacrament in Mammoth from 1988 to 1991.
Barmasse, who left the local diocese in 1991, remained a priest of the Los Angeles Archdiocese during his time here. Barmasse, who now lives in Westlake Village, Calif., did not wish to comment.
One lawsuit describes Barmasse as taking a youth group from Sierra Vista to Magic Mountain in California, and says the youths stayed at Barmasse's parents' home in the San Fernando Valley. The priest took one youth to his own childhood bed and molested him, the lawsuit says. The other lawsuits say Barmasse took teens from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton to California and molested them.
The Tucson diocese last year reached an out-of-court settlement with 10 men who said they were abused by local clergy for an amount estimated as high as $16 million. This year the diocese's insurance company paid $1.8 million to the families of five girls who say they were sexually abused by a teacher in Yuma during the 1999-2000 school year.
The diocese now has 14 lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by clergy pending against it - the most recent one naming a Yuma priest was filed Friday in Yuma's Superior Court.
Contact reporter Stephanie Innes at 573-4134 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
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