Head of Catholic Clergy Abuse Watchdog Office Visits Lexington

The Courier-Journal [Lexington KY]
Downloaded March 9, 2004

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) -- The woman who oversees the watchdog office for clergy sexual abuse set up by Roman Catholic bishops visited Lexington to assure parishioners that accusations against priests will be closely monitored in the future.

Kathleen McChesney's talk at the Cathedral of Christ the King came less than two weeks after a national victims' advocacy group asked her to take action regarding three Kentucky priests who have not been permanently removed from the ministry despite abuse claims against them.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests sent a letter to McChesney's Office of Child and Youth Protection and the lay National Review Board asking that they declare the dioceses where the priests serve in violation of the charter adopted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. It requires permanent removal from ministry for any substantiated claim of sexual abuse of a minor.

McChesney said she hasn't yet reviewed the SNAP request but promised to work with each diocese to address the concerns.

"We get requests on a daily basis from people all around the country," she told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Monday. "Our goal is to put those people in touch with the appropriate people in the diocese who can best address their issues."

One of SNAP's concerns was Lexington Bishop Ronald Gainer's reinstatement of the Rev. William G. Poole in December. He is retired from full-time ministry but can substitute in parishes when the regular priest is unavailable.

At Saturday's program, Gainer told the audience of about 75 people that he would revisit his decision if the alleged victim provided more information, said Kay Montgomery, SNAP's central Kentucky director.

"I will communicate this information to the victim and hopefully resolve it this way," she said. "I think the bishop was open and receptive to reversing his decision."

Diocesan spokesman Tom Shaughnessy confirmed the bishop's position.

"If new facts were to come along, I think the case could be revisited depending on what those facts are," Shaughnessy said.

A diocesan board that reviews abuse allegations could not substantiate the claim against Poole in the fall. The victim, who said the abuse happened in 1972, declined to meet with the board, Shaughnessy said.

But the Diocese of Covington, which included the Lexington diocese until 1988, had paid the alleged victim a settlement because it believed it was "credible enough to support a request for financial assistance," spokesman Tim Fitzgerald said.

Poole denies the abuse, and contends that the Covington diocese made no attempt to verify the claims against him before reaching a settlement.

SNAP also asked for a review of the Rev. Donald Ryan, who serves in the Archdiocese of Louisville, and the Rev. Delma Clemons, who was put on leave by the Diocese of Owensboro.

Two of the 243 plaintiffs in the $25.7 million settlement with the Louisville archdiocese accused Ryan, who has denied their claims.

But Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly restored Ryan to ministry in October after an archdiocesan review board investigation. The plaintiffs, Raymond Wilberding and Richard Lanham, said they did not meet with the review board because of their pending litigation but later asked the board to renew the probe.

Wilberding met with the board Feb. 26, and the church responded in a letter last week by telling him to go to law enforcement with his allegations.

"At this point the review board needs more information before it can determine if that original decision should be reconsidered," archdiocesan spokeswoman Cecelia Price said.

Clemons was placed on leave after a wrongful-death lawsuit was filed against the Diocese of Owensboro in November. It accused him of contributing to the suicide about a year ago of a 50-year-old woman who claimed he abused her when she was 18.

The lawsuit said that the diocese paid $41,000 to the woman in a confidential settlement in 1999 but that that money was returned in October.

Sister Joseph Angela Boone, chancellor for Bishop John McRaith, said Clemons has not been permanently removed because the lawsuit is pending.

Boone said Clemons could not be reached for comment, but a bulletin notice in November said, "He sincerely regrets the problems this (leave) has caused. He asks us to please continue to pray for him during this most difficult time."

SNAP Executive Director David Clohessy said he went to McChesney and the National Review Board because he was not satisfied with the bishops' actions.

"We have no choice but to try some other way of safeguarding these kids and removing these men," he said.

McChesney's visit to Lexington also came a week after the National Review Board published a survey tallying molestation claims and costs from 1950 to 2002, and a companion study explaining how the problem happened.

"I think it was a very productive day for everyone who attended," she said. "Many people were able to learn about the results of the study and what implications the study has for protecting children in the future."


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