Victims' Group Director Wants 2 Priests Suspended

By Gregory A. Hall
Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY)
November 8, 2003

The executive director of a national group for people abused by priests is calling for Owensboro's bishop to suspend two priests accused of sexual abuse in a wrongful -death suit filed in Louisville this week.

"This is the least you can do as a precaution," wrote David Clohessy, executive director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests .

In the letter, a copy of which he provided to The Courier-Journal, Clohessy notes that Roman Catholic bishops in this country have promised that priests accused of abuse will be removed from active ministry until allegations can be investigated.

The letter was prompted by a lawsuit filed Thursday in Jefferson Circuit Court against the Diocese of Owensboro, in which the family of a woman who killed herself last May claims that her suicide resulted from the actions of the church, including being contacted by one of three priests alleged to have abused her years ago.

Karen Roby, 50, fatally shot herself in the chest in a parking lot at McNeely Park.

One of the priests accused of abuse in the lawsuit, the Rev. Robert Willett, is dead.

A second, the Rev. Delma Clemons, has not responded to telephone messages left at St. Jerome Church in Fancy Farm, where he has been stationed.

The third priest, the Rev. Richard Powers, is pastor of St. Mary Magdalene Church near Owensboro. In an interview Thursday, he denied the allegation and said he didn't even know Roby.

Marvin Nunley, the attorney for the diocese, said yesterday that an investigation of the allegations against Powers has concluded that the claims are frivolous.

He and the chancellor for the diocese both said yesterday that they do not know Clemons' status.

Nunley said Thursday that anything that may have occurred between Roby and Clemons and Roby and Willett took place when she was 18. Attorney s for Roby's estate said she was under 18.

Nunley said yesterday that he had not seen Clohessy's letter, nor spoken about it with Bishop John J. McRaith, to whom it was addressed.

Clohessy, in a telephone interview, referred to a statement by Pope John Paul II that the church has no place in ministry for those who would harm children. "He did not draw arbitrary lines or say that what matters is the legal technical age of consent in a particular jurisdiction," Clohessy said.

The letter from the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests also said that several of its leaders will be in Washington next week for a U.S. Catholic bishops' meeting and that they would like to meet with McRaith.

The lawsuit filed by Roby's estate is the first in Kentucky and one of a handful nationally to accuse a diocese of wrongfully contributing to the death of an alleged victim of sex abuse by a priest.

The lawsuit alleges that Roby was sexually abused by the three priests when they were assigned to SS. Joseph and Paul Catholic Church in Owensboro, where she was a parishioner and student.

The abuse is alleged to have taken place between 1962 and 1970.

Roby signed a release of any legal claims against the diocese in 1999, which Nunley has said is valid.

The lawsuit claims that Roby's mental state at the time of the agreement makes it invalid.


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