Man Abused by Priest Says Memories Remain, Shame Is Gone

Associated Press State & Local Wire
April 2, 2002

Reports of church leaders losing their posts because of sexual misconduct bring back memories for Bob Koenig, but he says he no longer owns the shame from 17 years of abuse.

"That belongs at the feet of Father (William) Lambert and the Catholic church," the Sioux Falls businessman said. "A lot of my emotional scars are healed. (But) when I hear stories or hear other victims talk, I can identify and some of the hurts come back."

Similar scandals have rocked the church elsewhere in the United States as well as Australia, Britain, Canada, Ireland and France. Dozens of U.S. priests have been suspended or forced to resign in many of the cases.

The 56-year-old Koenig, a former altar boy, took Lambert and the Catholic Diocese of Rapid City to civil court and won a $242,000 jury award in December 1995. Jurors cleared the diocese of wrongdoing.

The South Dakota Supreme Court later appointed an arbitrator and both sides agreed to a settlement, though the details were sealed.

Koenig said Lambert's sexual abuse lasted from 1958 until 1975 and destroyed his life through alcoholism and thoughts of suicide, though he's no longer clinically depressed.

Koenig said although the molestation ended in 1975, it wasn't until a therapy session in 1990 that he was able to start to deal with it.

During the trial, the retired Lambert admitted to having sex with Koenig starting shortly after Lambert became the parish priest in Fairfax.

Lambert testified that he told at least five other priests of his estimated 13 sexual encounters with Koenig over the years.

Koenig said he went public only after the diocese refused to remove Lambert from having access to children. Since then, he's talked to numerous people who say they've also been abused by Lambert - 23 from Fairfax and more from other parishes where he served, Koenig said.

"They still call," he said.

His lawyer, Rick Johnson of Gregory, said he also gets calls from other men who say Lambert abused them.

Johnson represented another man who also sued Lambert and won an out-of-court settlement.

One other case involving the diocese is still pending. That case is filed in federal court in Omaha, Neb., by a man who said the late Rev. Donald Murray sexually assaulted him at Sky Ranch for Boys at Camp Crook in the mid-1960s.

Rapid City Bishop Blase Cupich was not available for comment Tuesday, but his office sent a statement on the issue.

In it, he said no priest now serving in the Rapid City diocese faces a criminal charge or civil lawsuit.

Cupich said the diocese adopted a policy in 1993 to immediately investigate any accusation of abuse and report it to authorities. The diocese also encourages victims to come forward, he said.

"We condemn sexual abuse anywhere and we offer heartfelt sympathy to victims. We are committed to the protection and safety of children," Cupich wrote.

The Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls adopted a similar policy in the 1990s, encouraging victims to speak.

The only court case involving the diocese was filed in 1995 against the Rev. William Neuroth by a former O'Gorman High School student who said the priest abused him in the 1970s.

Bishop Robert Carlson said that case resulted in the priest being removed within 72 hours. The diocese then did all it could to make sure there were no other victims, he said.

"I sent a letter to the person who had been abused and apologized on behalf of the church," Carlson said.

He said a handful of others have also reported abuse by family members, coaches and two priests from other states, though those cases did not result in lawsuits.

Carlson outlined the diocese's policy on the issue last month at masses in Aberdeen and Sioux Falls attended by parents, lay ministers and young people being confirmed.

Abuse "puts everyone under a cloud," he said.

"This abuse is always wrong and it hurts us as it hurts individuals and families as we try to minister to people and somebody from our own ranks abuses someone," Carlson said.

"We're all sinners and all make mistakes, but this is something that cannot be allowed to happen."


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