Chesley to Review Diocese Records

By Paul A. Long
The Kentucky Post [Covington KY]
Downloaded March 13, 2003

A Boone County judge has ordered the Diocese of Covington to turn over its personnel archives to a Cincinnati attorney who maintains that church leaders sustained an atmosphere in which sexual abuse of children and teen-agers was tolerated.

The archives must be given to Stan Chesley, who will personally review them. No one else will be allowed to see them, Bamberger ruled Tuesday after a hearing.

"When the order is written -- we will comply fully," said diocese spokesman Tim Fitzgerald.

The diocese has argued that the records are constitutionally protected. Neither the state -- nor anyone else -- has the right to look into records about its priests, the diocese has argued.

But this is not the first time a judge has ordered the records unsealed.

In 1995, Kenton Circuit Judge Greg Bartlett reviewed the records, and, after deleting names, allowed attorneys in another sex-abuse lawsuit to use the information in depositions and later at a trial.

The archives contain personnel records and other information on priests, nuns and other church officials and employees. The diocese has argued they are protected by religious privileges.

"We're very pleased with the ruling," Chesley said. "We think it's an important decision. It's what we're entitled to."

Chesley filed the lawsuit on behalf of a man who said he was sexually abused while a student in the early 1970s at Newport Catholic High School. The man, who 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 claims. Holtz last served as pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary in Hebron, 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.

Allegations that Holtz molested a second boy in the 1970s are being investigated by the Kentucky State Police. 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 a minor."

To help him prove those allegations, Chesley sought to review the diocese's personnel archives, along with other records.

Chesley said if he finds information in the archives relevant to his case, he will have to go back to court to show that relevance, which is the common rule when a lawyer seeks to use private files.

"They will remain confidential. I cannot show the information to anyone or share it with anyone. But if it is relevant, (and he can convince a judge of that), then it can be used in the trial and becomes public," he said.

He also has filed a separate lawsuit on behalf of two other people who say they were in elementary school when they were sexually abused by priests -- one in 1967 and one in 1981 and 1982.

Chesley is seeking to make that lawsuit a class-action lawsuit on behalf of anyone abused by priests in the Covington Diocese.

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