Priest, 97, Is Ordered to Remain at Center
24 Plaintiffs Accuse Nienaber and Other Clergy of Sex Abuse

By Peter Smith
The Courier-Journal [Lexington KY]
Downloaded December 10, 2003

The Diocese of Lexington has agreed to order an elderly priest to permanently remain at a Missouri treatment center, even after he completes a 10-year sentence there next year for child sexual abuse.

The decision was formalized in a settlement announced this week among the Diocese of Lexington and 24 alleged victims of the Rev. Leonard Nienaber and other priests. The 24 had brought legal claims against the diocese.

Nienaber, 97, entered the treatment center of the Servants of the Paraclete, a Roman Catholic organization, in 1994 after his conviction on 10 counts of child sexual abuse. At the time, Fayette Circuit Judge Mary Noble ordered him to serve a 10-year sentence there.

But Lexington Bishop Ronald Gainer has formally agreed to order Nienaber to live out his days at the center.

The settlement among the diocese and the 24 plaintiffs was reached last week, the diocese and plaintiffs' attorney Angela Ford said.

The plaintiffs also received payments last week for their shares of a $5.2million settlement reached with the Diocese of Covington in October.

Eighteen had accused Nienaber, and Ford said they were worried about the possibility of him returning to the community, even at his advanced age.

Gainer told Ford that as long as Nienaber "was obedient to his wishes, he would remain out of this diocese (and) at the center," said Jim Paris, chancellor for the Diocese of Lexington. Gainer "has no legal authority over his priest, but they do take a vow of obedience to their bishop," he said. "Thus far he (Nienaber) has always been obedient," he said.

The Lexington diocese also agreed to continue funding counseling for the plaintiffs, something it has been paying for since last year, Ford and Paris said.

The agreement wraps up a legal battle that had continued for more than a year between a group that brought claims against the dioceses of Lexington and Covington, accusing Nienaber and at least five other priests of sexual misconduct. Among those accused was the Rev. Joseph Pilger, a convicted sexual offender whose slaying last week is under investigation.

Twenty-two victims had filed suit against the two dioceses. Noble dismissed the Lexington diocese from the lawsuit in May because it was created from the Covington diocese after the alleged abuse took place.

She allowed the litigation to proceed against the Covington diocese. In October, the diocese reached a $5.2million settlement with 27 people who had either sued or brought out-of-court claims. (Ford represented 24 of them.) Final paperwork on that settlement was completed last week, lawyers and the Covington diocese confirmed.While the main settlement was with the Covington diocese, Ford had also appealed the dismissal of the Lexington diocese. She said she would drop the appeal, with Gainer's pledges to restrict Nienaber and to pay for counseling for the victims.

"All of my clients will know counseling is there and is an expense that will be covered, which was very important," Ford said.

That agreement "solidified what we had already been doing providing that care," Paris said.

Another lawsuit is pending against the Covington diocese.

On Oct. 1, a Boone County judge granted class-action status to a lawsuit filed on behalf of alleged victims of priests over the past 50 years.

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