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  2 Accusers Unhappy at Return of Priest
Archdiocesan Board Acted Too Quickly, They Say

By Peter Smith
Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY)
October 28, 2003

Two men accusing a priest of sexual abuse are calling on the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville to reverse its decision to return him to ministry, saying they would be willing to tell their stories to the church board that reviews such cases.

Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly last week returned the Rev. Donald Ryan to his post as pastor of St. Denis Church after the archdiocese's review board concluded that it could not substantiate the abuse claims made against him in lawsuits filed in April.

Ryan celebrated Mass this past weekend for the first time since being placed on leave in April and was warmly welcomed by his parish council.

But at an emotional news conference last night at the office of their attorney, the plaintiffs - Raymond Wilberding and Richard Lanham - continued to maintain that Ryan abused them while they were boys attending St. Columba Church in the 1960s.

"It just baffles me that the church has apologized to me and has acknowledged in public and print that I was a victim, and now they're telling me I'm a half-ass victim," said Wilberding, 46. "I'm not buying that."

Ryan could not be reached late last night.

Wilberding and Lanham are participating in a $25.7 million settlement reached between the archdiocese and 243 plaintiffs who filed lawsuits accusing dozens of priests and other church workers of abuse. Under the terms of the settlement, the archdiocese agreed not to refer to the plaintiffs as "alleged victims."

Archdiocesan spokeswoman Cecelia Price said last night that "any information we receive would be brought to the review board. What they will do with it is unclear at this time."

The review board that restored Ryan to the ministry cited several factors, including a lack of cooperation from his two accusers.

It also cited Ryan's own strong denials of the accusation, his strong work history and the praise of those who have known him over the years.

Price said the archdiocese contacted Lanham and Wilberding by certified letter after the Aug. 1 court approval of the settlement; neither agreed to talk to the review panel.

Both men and their attorney, William McMurry, said the men were contacted while the cases were still pending. The discrepancy in the timing could not be resolved last night.

McMurry said that with the case settled, "we will meet them any time and let them interview Richard and Ray."

He maintained that the archdiocese rushed too quickly to return Ryan to service and that it never contacted his office in an effort to gain the plaintiffs' cooperation.

McMurry called on the church to place Ryan on leave again "until this panel can look into the whites of the eyes of these victims and hear their story first hand."

Both men described in graphic terms their accusations that Ryan fondled them as children. They said it took a severe emotional toll.

"I've just held this within myself for 35 years," said Lanham, 47.

Michael Turner, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuits leading to the settlement, said the case "needs to be reopened" because the two men are willing to work with the process.

 
 

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