Catholic Diocese Settles Woman's Abuse Lawsuit
By Karla Ward
Kay Montgomery and her attorney, Al Grasch, declined to disclose the monetary amount of the settlement.
"The case was never about money," Grasch said. "The case was about finding out about what the church knew and what they did to conceal it."
Montgomery's case was one of the last remaining cases in Lexington brought against the Covington Diocese (although a class-action lawsuit against the Covington Diocese is still pending in Boone County).
In an interview yesterday, Montgomery discussed documents that show the church transferred the priest who allegedly abused her from location to location. The records indicate that church leaders knew that Edward Fritsch, at the time a priest under the authority of the Covington Diocese, had made sexual advances to young women on a number of occasions, beginning shortly after his ordination in 1965.
Still, in 1966, the Covington Diocese sent Fritsch to the Owensboro Diocese, where he was assigned to teach at Owensboro Catholic High School. That's where he met and allegedly abused Montgomery, a ninth grade student at the time.
David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said Montgomery's case is unique.
"It is, sadly, rare that these documents see the light of day," he said. "When victims and attorneys push for ... the truth, in the majority of cases we're stymied."
Clohessy said the church's pattern of behavior in Montgomery's case "sounds painfully familiar." Rather than trying to find and help the alleged victims, "the focus was on keeping a valued employee, a priest," he said.
The diocese has resolved about 55 claims in the past year and a half, according to a statement the Covington Diocese released yesterday.
"Our goal is to resolve all of the claims, minister to the needs of the victims, and restore the public's trust in the Catholic Church and its leadership," the statement said. "We hope and pray that these efforts, and settlement of these claims, will bring some measure of peace to the victims and their families."
After his ordination in June 1965, Fritsch was assigned to the St. William Church in Lancaster.
Soon after, Father Ralph Beiting, the priest supervising Fritsch, wrote in a letter to the bishop of the Covington Diocese that he had discovered that Fritsch had had "contact with about nine to ten girls." The letter was filed as part of the case.
Most of the "girls" mentioned were college age, although one who Fritsch allegedly invited to bed was a 15-year-old, Beiting said in a deposition.
Fritsch was sent to Our Lady of Peace Psychiatric Hospital in Louisville for four months of treatment.
Upon his discharge in December 1965, Dr. James Wygal wrote that Fritsch had "repeatedly tried to become involved with student nurses and some female patients" and had a "poor" prognosis. Wygal recommended that Fritsch be removed from the priesthood "if any more acute episodes occur."
Grasch said the church fought to keep the evaluation private but eventually produced it.
In January 1966, court records show, Fritsch was assigned to a church in Fort Mitchell, but by June of that year, he was removed and later suspended after a married woman said he took "sexual liberties" with her.
Next, Fritsch was sent to the Owensboro Diocese, where he was assigned to teach at the Owensboro Catholic High School in the fall of 1966. Montgomery said Fritsch molested her while she was a ninth grader there.
Later in the school year, after she transferred to the Academy of the Immaculate Conception, a Catholic boarding school for girls in Ferdinand, Ind., Montgomery said Fritsch continued the abuse.
Every week, she said, he would come to the school and pick her up, drive her off campus and sexually molest her. She said Fritsch told her that her family would be excommunicated if she told.
The school, which closed in 2000, was operated by the Sisters of St. Benedict of Ferdinand, Ind.
Fritsch was removed from duty in Owensboro in 1967, when a young woman from Northern Kentucky came forward and said she was pregnant with his child, according to documents released in the case.
He left the priesthood and married in 1969.
Fritsch, who currently lives in New Jersey, was not a party to the lawsuit, and he has not been named in any other Catholic sex abuse suits, Grasch said. Fritsch did not return a telephone call yesterday.
Grasch said the Covington Diocese paid 90 percent of Montgomery's settlement. Although the Owensboro Diocese and the Sisters of St. Benedict were not parties to the suit, Grasch said the entities contributed the other 10 percent of the settlement amount.
Montgomery, who has been a leader in the local chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, was one of more than 20 people who sued the diocese in 2002 in Fayette Circuit Court.
Most of the other plaintiffs settled in 2003 for a total of $4.4 million.
Montgomery chose to continue her suit rather than settle, because she wanted to get more documents showing that Fritsch had had prior problems with the church. She also did not want to agree to a settlement that required her to keep details of the case confidential, she said.
She reached a settlement with the diocese last month, and her case was dismissed from Fayette Circuit Court on Jan. 5. One other plaintiff's case is still pending in Fayette Circuit Courts.
The Lexington Diocese was dismissed from all the proceedings because Lexington and Eastern Kentucky were part of the Covington Diocese when the alleged abuse occurred.
Montgomery said she repressed memories of the alleged incidents until several years ago, when she read a newspaper article about altar boys who had been abused by Catholic priests.
She said she called the person who wrote the article, and while she was on the phone, "the memories were just flooding back," she said. "I had never told anybody."
She is now writing a book about her experiences, which she hopes will help victims of sexual abuse gain the courage to open up about their stories.
"It can destroy your life in so many ways," she said. "Secrecy and silence is not the way to go."
Reach Karla Ward at (859) 231-3314; 1-800-950-6397, ext. 3314; or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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