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  Sexual Abuse Charge against Former Priest Is Dropped

By Gregory Hall
Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY)
January 22, 2004

A sexual abuse charge against former priest Charles F. Dearing has been dropped after a prosecutors cited weaknesses in their case that made a conviction unlikely.

Jefferson Circuit Judge Thomas B. Wine dismissed the case Tuesday at the request of prosecutor J. Bryan Fantoni, an assistant Jefferson County commonwealth's attorney.

Theresa Harp had accused Dearing of abusing her between 1966 and 1968, when he was a priest at St. Frances of Rome Catholic Church.

"There was a different version of the story given by" witnesses other than those for the prosecution, said Jeff Derouen, a spokesman for the commonwealth's attorney's office. Derouen said the office would not release names of the witnesses not connected to the prosecution.

Fantoni's motion for dismissal said he had received information that led him to believe "that there is insufficient evidence at this time to go forward with prosecution."

Dearing's attorney, Jack Smith, said he had given Fantoni information, but both Derouen and Smith declined to be more specific what prompted the decision to drop the case.

"I think they came to the conclusion that they could not make the case, but we worked very closely with them," Smith said in a telephone interview.

Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Stengel cited other problems with the case, including a telephone call last May between Harp and Dearing that police recorded. A transcript of the call is in the court file.

Dearing denied any abuse during the call, and said he had heard from Harp a year earlier and had an attorney.

"It was just an incredibly strong defense that they laid out in front of us before we ever went to trial," Stengel said in a telephone interview.

In the "interest of justice," Derouen said, prosecutors have a duty to dismiss cases where they believe reasonable doubt exists. Prosecutors are not saying they don't believe Harp, Derouen said.

In a telephone interview, Dearing said he was relieved to have the allegations behind him. "I can't tell you how grateful I am," he said.

Dearing said he "tried to be as good a priest as I could be." He also said he told his accuser in the police-monitored call that "as the lovely God knows, this did not happen."

Dearing, 80, left the priesthood in 1971, is retired and lives in Louisville. He said he had heard from a number of former parishioners supporting him . He said the experience also has been horrible for his wife and children.

"I firmly believe that if we had gone before a jury, I would have been exonerated," he said.

Harp filed a civil lawsuit against the archdiocese that was part of the $25.7million settlement that resolved the claims of 243 plaintiffs.

Harp said yesterday that she stands by her account and believes that Fantoni shouldn't have dropped the case. She said other former students could corroborate her account of the events of the day that led to the alleged abuse.

"I was sexually abused, and Mr. Dearing, he will be judged at Judgment Day," she said.

 
 

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