New Lawsuits Allege 1950s Sexual Abuse by Priest

By Kevin Murphy
The Kansas City Star [Missouri]
August 30, 2005

Two men have sued the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, contending they were sexually abused in the 1950s by the Rev. Sylvester Hoppe, who died in 2002.

Gary Lee Smith of Topeka and Hank Talbot, who lives in northwest Missouri, filed lawsuits late last week in Jackson County Circuit Court. The lawsuits said the diocese "ignored, covered up and concealed" Hoppe's behavior.

In a written statement released Monday afternoon, the Rev. Robert A. Murphy, vicar general of the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, said the diocese had no record of complaints from Smith or Talbot.

Still, he expressed regret for the harm done by a few priests. "The diocese is deeply sorry for what has happened to innocent children due to the abuse perpetrated by some priests," Murphy's statement said.

In September 2003, the diocese settled a 2002 lawsuit against Hoppe for $10,000. A California man, Thomas Dorrell, sued the diocese and Hoppe, alleging that Hoppe molested him in the 1950s, which Hoppe denied at the time through his lawyer.

Smith lived at an orphanage in St. Joseph that the diocese operated. Hoppe lived in a rectory attached to the orphanage and gave Smith gifts, clothes, wine and candy and began sexual activity with him at age 10, the lawsuit alleges. The abuse occurred between 1951 and 1956, it says. "Plaintiff repressed all memory of the abuse and/or could not ascertain his injury until 2005," the lawsuit states.

Talbot lived in St. Joseph with his family when Hoppe recruited him as an altar boy at age 10 or 11, the lawsuit states. Hoppe would take the boy on overnight trips to towns where Hoppe would say Mass the next morning. They slept together, and Hoppe abused Talbot starting at age 13 in 1950, the lawsuit states.

"Hoppe told the plaintiff that such abuse was OK and favored in the Catholic faith," the lawsuit states.

Smith and Talbot seek unspecified monetary damages.

Both lawsuits mention Hoppe's lifelong involvement with the Boy Scouts. Hoppe served as a chaplain for Scout groups. In his 2002 lawsuit, Dorrell said Hoppe abused him at a Scout jamboree.

In 1999, a chapel at Camp Geiger near St. Joseph was named after Hoppe.


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