Church Says Victim May Share Blame

By Paul A. Long
The Cincinnati Post [Cincinnati OH]
Downloaded February 27, 2003

The Diocese of Covington, responding to a lawsuit charging that it allowed priests to molest teen-age boys during the 1970s, is arguing that the plaintiff -- who was 13 when he says a priest began abusing him -- may be partly to blame for his abuse.

"The plaintiff may have assumed a known and obvious risk,'' said the diocese's answer to the lawsuit, filed in Boone County. "The plaintiff may have been comparatively negligent.''

The diocese and its attorneys declined to comment on its legal findings.

But the head of a Kentucky group that advocates for the victims and survivors of abuse by priests and other clergy said the response is sadly typical of a Catholic Church that plays hardball in court.

"It's not uncommon,'' said Sue Archibald, president of the Louisville-based group, the Linkup. "The church, instead of acting as a religious institution, is acting like a corporation, protecting its assets at all costs."

Cincinnati attorney Stan Chesley, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of a man who maintains that he was sexually abused while a student in the early 1970s at Newport Catholic High School, called the church's response arrogant and absurd.

"That's an asinine comment to make about someone who's been so brutally injured," Chesley said. "I'm paying little or no attention to it."

In the lawsuit, the plaintiff, who now lives in Montana, named a former priest, Louis Holtz, as his abuser. Holtz, then a teacher, counselor and religious adviser at the high school, began abusing the boy when he was 13, the lawsuit claimed.

Holtz last served as pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary in Hebron, Ky., where he retired in 1995, citing poor health. He applied for laicization -- reverting to lay status -- last summer and for all practical purposes ended his career as a priest.

The Kentucky State Police are investigating allegations that Holtz molested a second boy in the 1970s. That person told investigators that he was a 13-year-old altar boy when met Holtz at St. Philip Church in Melbourne, Ky. Holtz abused him for several years, both in Campbell County and in adjacent Pendleton County, he told authorities.

While Holtz is not named as a defendant in the Boone County lawsuit, the diocese is. The lawsuit maintains that by covering up the abuse, the diocese was "tacitly approving the physical sexual abuse of minor.''

The church filed its two-page response earlier this month. Most of the document is boilerplate language, common to most lawsuits. It denies most of the allegations, then brings in any possible defenses the diocese may have -- including that the statute of limitations has passed.

In its sexual misconduct policies, the Covington Diocese stresses that "anyone making an allegation will be treated with dignity and respect."

"It is never defensible for individuals or institutions to condone, ignore or abet sexual misbehavior, nor should we blame the victim or withhold our support and assistance," the policy said.

Mark Guilfoyle, one of the two attorneys who filed the response, and diocesan spokesman Tim Fitzgerald both said they could not comment on the case because it was pending litigation.

Archibald said she has seen cases in which various dioceses have told victims as young as 7 that they bear some responsibility for what happened.

More than 10 years of publicity about priestly sexual abuse hasn't changed the response, she said -- except for the worse.

"It seems that in many ways, that the church is regressing now," she said.

"It's terribly harmful to the victims."

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