Bishop Accountability

Attack on Family at Priest's Trial Was Unnecessary

By Bill McClellan
St. Louis (MO) Post-Dispatch
August 31, 2003

Father Kenneth Robert Smoot did not seem eager to testify against a friend and fellow priest, but he was resolute about it. He came across -- at least to me -- as a fellow who had decided to do the right thing. The right thing is not always the easy thing or the popular thing, but there is a certain strength, a certain moral clarity, that attaches itself to the man or woman who chooses it.

Smoot and Bryan Kuchar were friends from their days in the seminary. They had vacationed together. In April of last year, when Kuchar learned that he was under investigation, he called Smoot. They had dinner together the night before Kuchar was arrested. So their friendship was not of the casual sort. They were close.

When Kuchar was arrested, he confessed. Later, he recanted, and claimed the police had coerced him. He went to trial in May, and the jury could not reach a verdict.

Smoot spoke with the authorities. He said that he had talked with Kuchar two weeks after his arrest. Smoot said he had asked Kuchar if the accusations were true. He said they were, Smoot said.

So it was that at Kuchar's second trial, Smoot became a witness against his friend. He wore his clerical clothes to court. Kuchar sat at the defense table in his priestly garb. Smoot looked toward him. Kuchar seemed to look away. Under questioning by prosecutor Rob Livergood, Smoot told his story.

He said that Kuchar had admitted having sex with an eighth-grader he was supposed to be mentoring. Smoot said that Kuchar claimed that the boy had instigated the sex. Smoot said he tried to indicate that he supported Kuchar as a friend, but that this particular act could not be condoned. The boy was a child. This was wrong.

Right. Wrong. It was nice to hear somebody from the church talking like that.

The next witness was a nun. She told a similar story. She had visited Kuchar, and he had told her he had been seduced by the 14-year-old.

The nun did not come forward on her own. I was unable to learn any details, but apparently, she told somebody about her conversation with Kuchar, and that somebody -- presumably, a somebody inside the church -- called the authorities. So somebody else in the church was thinking about right and wrong.

I wonder, though, about the church leaders on Lindell Boulevard.

Kuchar's story has always been difficult to believe. He says he confessed because the cops questioned him for three hours, and he wanted to go home. Say what? We're not talking about a 17-year-old kid who's chained to the radiator for 22 hours and is tricked into thinking he can go home if he confesses to a crime he didn't commit. We're talking about a priest who has more education than the detectives who supposedly tricked him.

Still, the fellows on Lindell decided to let Kuchar wear his Roman collar to trial, and they provided him with an attorney. Well, fine. A defendant is presumed innocent until a jury decides otherwise.

But there was a point earlier in the trial when the mother of the victim testified. She seems the very picture of a middle-class Catholic woman. She's got five kids. She sent them to parochial schools. When she had a troubled child, to whom did she turn? The priest.

She was cross-examined by the attorney hired by the archdiocese. He asked her about the civil suit the family has filed. You're after money, aren't you? he asked.

You can't blame the attorney for questioning her motives. That's good legal strategy. But once Smoot came forward, the men on Lindell Boulevard had to know the truth. This family was victimized once. Why victimize them again by questioning their motives? It would have been possible to defend Kuchar without attacking the family.

That kind of instruction would have shown a certain strength, a certain moral clarity, that comes from deciding to do the right thing.

Kuchar was convicted Friday of three of six counts of statutory sodomy.


Original material copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.