Abuse Case Centers on Sparta Man

By John T. Sanders
New Jersey Herald [Sparta NJ]
January 18, 2005

The alleged events happened nearly 40 years ago, hundreds of miles away, but a recently settled lawsuit has placed a spotlight on one local man’s past.

In a landmark case settled Jan. 5, Lexington, Ky., resident Kay Montgomery and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington, Ky., agreed to end a civil lawsuit accusing a Sparta resident of sexual abuse.

Montgomery, who will be paid an undisclosed amount of money, accused Edward J. Fritsch of molesting her on numerous occasions when she was 13.

Fritsch, now president of the Sparta Historical Society, was a Roman Catholic priest. Montgomery was a high school freshman at two different Catholic schools.

Montgomery, now a 52-year-old homemaker, refused to settle her claims unless documents about the church’s decisions to transfer Fritsch from job to job were released. In previous cases throughout the country, such church documents have been kept classified.

"As far as we know it’s the largest amount of money paid to any sexual abuse victim by the Diocese of Covington," Kentucky lawyer Al Grasch, Montgomery’s attorney, said in a telephone interview Monday.

Still, Grasch and Montgomery said the case was not about the dollars.

It was filed, they said, because the church ignored Fritsch’s actions.

Fritsch and his wife, Christina, said Monday that they would like to respond to the accusations. They declined comment until they hear from their lawyer, who they said had previously recommended not speaking about the case.

Fritsch’s attorney, Sparta lawyer Debra Nicholson, could not be reached for comment Monday.

Among the evidence revealed as a result of the settlement was documentation of Fritsch’s five-month stay at Our Lady of Peace Hospital from August to December of 1965.

A document signed by Dr. James Wygal in 1965 states that Fritsch had been deceptive, and that he tried to become involved with student nurses and some female patients.

None of the documents released in the settlement mentions Montgomery.

In a telephone interview Monday, Montgomery described abuse, which she said took place at Owensboro Catholic High School, where Fritsch was sent to teach by the Owensboro Diocese.

She said that while Fritsch prayed, he made her touch him in an inappropriate manner. She further said that after displaying both behavioral and medical problems, her parents transferred her to the Academy of the Immaculate Conception, a female boarding school in Ferdinand, Ind. At that time, she said, Fritsch would visit the school, remove her from the campus and abuse her.

"Back then, priests were just so high on a pedestal you just thought that they couldn’t do anything wrong," Montgomery said.

The Lexington woman said she remembered the events only after reading a newspaper article in 2002 about boys who alleged abuse within the Catholic Church.

She said that at the time, she called a telephone number at the end of the article that said that abuse does not only happen to boys, but to girls also. Before even realizing why she was making the call, she found herself saying that she was abused.

Fritsch’s brother Al called his Edward Fritsch’s inability to respond "tragic."

Al Fritsch said he believes his brother did not sexually molest Montgomery. He said his brother has had a clean record for 35 years — working for the New Jersey state government from 1970-1976 at a home for juvenile delinquents and for the Parsippany school board from 1976-1994.

"I think the story is highly fictionalized," Al Fritsch said Monday.

Montgomery, who said she has been in counseling for the past two years, said she will continue to try to heal scars from her childhood. She said that although the molestation led her to lose her faith as a Catholic, she remains a Christian and regularly attends a Methodist church.

"When I see a black robe and a white collar, it just terrifies me," Montgomery said, adding that she still has trouble attending graduation ceremonies because of the robes. "All of my innocence was taken from me," she said.

The Rev. Kathy Kerston, of the Institute for Spiritual Development in Sparta, said Monday that she has known Edward Fritsch since 1989. Fritsch is a member and his wife is an active minister.

"I’ve always known him to be an upright and honorable man," Kerston said. "I’ve never seen any indications that would remotely make me think the accusations would have any basis."

Montgomery, a sexual victims’ advocate who advises victims of abuse to come forward, is writing a book about her memories of abuse.

Grasch, her attorney, said he and Montgomery have no plans to pursue litigation against Fritsch.