Sparta ex-priest's past comes out after diocese in Ky. settles
By Abbott Koloff
A lawsuit involving a Sparta man accused of molesting a teenage girl decades ago, when he was a priest in Kentucky, was settled this month by church officials who paid money to the accuser and gave her something else she said she wanted even more.
They handed over the alleged abuser's personnel files—a gesture that victims' advocates applauded, calling it rare and saying that in some ways it was unprecedented.
Edward J. Fritsch, 65, of Sparta, was the subject of a lawsuit filed against the Covington, Ky. Roman Catholic Diocese two years ago by Kay Montgomery, 52, of Lexington, Ky.
The suit claimed Fritsch sexually abused Montgomery while she was a ninth-grader at a Catholic high school where he was a teacher in 1966, and later during the same school year while she attended a Catholic boarding school.
The diocese personnel files, made public by Montgomery's attorney, indicate church officials had concerns about Fritsch's sexual conduct with women and about his involvement with underage girls long before they sent him to teach at the Catholic school where he allegedly met and abused Montgomery.
Al Grasch, Montgomery's attorney, would not say how much money his client received in the settlement but called it the largest amount ever given by the Covington Diocese.
Fritsch, a social worker who had been employed by the Parsippany school district for years until 1995, said on Monday that he could not talk about the lawsuit until he had conferred with his attorney. Debra Nicholson, his attorney, said on Tuesday that she advised her client not to make any comment.
Married with two grown children, Fritsch was not a defendant in the suit and had no opportunity to respond to the allegations, Nicholson said.
"He never had an opportunity to participate in any discovery or defense," Nicholson said. "Therefore, he is not in a position to comment. He has not even been provided a copy of the documents that the diocese has released."
She did say Fritsch agreed in the late 1960s to be laicized, or returned to the lay state, because he wanted to leave the priesthood so he could get married and have a family. Church records show that before he agreed to laicization, he asked to remain a priest but be allowed to marry. That request, the records show, was denied. He later worked in New Jersey as a social worker and still has an active license, according to state records. There is no record of any disciplinary action ever being taken against him by state officials.
Covington Diocese officials declined to comment Tuesday. They issued a public statement late last week, after the settlement became public, saying they have resolved 55 claims of abuse over the past year in an effort to bring peace to victims and their families.
There are no specific allegations in the documents released by the Covington Diocese that Frisch had sexual relations with underage girls—but there are indications that diocese officials were concerned about his behavior around women and young girls and responded by transferring him from his first job, in an Appalachian mountain mission, to another parish and then to a school.
The Rev. Ralph Beiting, Fritsch's first supervisor shortly after he was ordained in 1965, wrote a letter to Covington's then-bishop Richard Ackerman saying Fritsch has had "contact with about nine or 10 girls." Beiting wrote that the contact ranged from holding hands to more explicit sexual activities, although none involved intercourse.
"The girls varied in age from 15-year-old high school children to 25-year-old women," Beiting said in the letter.
He did not specify what kind of contact involved children.
The personnel records show that despite their concerns, Covington officials transferred Fritsch to another church and then to a Catholic high school in Owensboro, Ky. in another diocese, although he technically remained under their supervision.
The records show that in 1965 Fritsch spent some time in a hospital where he was given a psychiatric evaluation, with a doctor writing that he had a chronic problem and continually tried to "become involved" with student nurses and female patients.
David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of Those
Abbott Koloff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (973) 989-0652.
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