Priest Sued for Alleged Sexual Assault of Kansas City Man

By Matt Sedensky
The Associated Press, carried in Belleville News-Democrat
April 4, 2006

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - A former church groundskeeper who claims he was sexually assaulted both as a child and as an adult has sued the Catholic priest he says was his abuser.

The lawsuit filed by the 25-year-old Kansas City man, identified only as John Doe GS, is against the Rev. Stephen Muth, who the plaintiff claims he was molested by as a 12-year-old boy, and again a decade later, when the priest was his boss. It was filed Friday in Jackson County Circuit Court and announced in a news conference Tuesday.

Muth is a Byzantine Catholic priest, part of one of numerous Eastern Rite churches that answer to Rome but maintain separate traditions. He is pastor of St. Luke Parish, a Byzantine Rite church in Sugar Creek that is part of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma, Ohio, which covers a dozen Midwestern states, and administrator of St. Cyril Parish, a Roman Catholic church in Sugar Creek that is part of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.

Loretta Nemeth, a spokeswoman for the eparchy, said no allegation involving Muth had been reported to church officials there. Rebecca Summers, a diocesan spokeswoman, said a complaint against Muth had been investigated in the past and was not substantiated, though she said she had not received the lawsuit and was unsure if the allegations were the same as the prior ones.

The diocese said it placed Muth on administrative leave after abuse was alleged in August 2004. An internal review cleared him, and the diocese granted him permission to return to ministry. The diocese said it also reported the alleged abuse to the Missouri Division of Family Services, which church officials said found the claims unsubstantiated, though a spokesman for the agency said state law prohibited him from commenting on the investigation.

Muth did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday.

According to the suit, Muth and his alleged victim met in 1992, when the boy was taking part in a church-sponsored leadership training program. The priest is accused of sexually abusing the child at a Wichita, Kan., swimming pool.

In 2002, the suit claims, Muth contacted the alleged victim again. The priest hired him as a maintenance man and groundskeeper at St. Luke's and Our Lady of Peace Parish, a Kansas City church where the diocese says Muth was assigned some duties from 2002 to 2004.

Muth provided his alleged victim with temporary housing and loans, the suit claims, and would attempt to fondle his employee, then chastise and humiliate him when he was rejected. The priest also allegedly told the plaintiff he was a trained physical therapist and encouraged the plaintiff to take part in massage sessions in which the priest again attempted to molest him.

"My parish priest used his Roman collar to disguise the presence of evil," the plaintiff said in a statement released to reporters. "He destroyed my innocence and left me feeling helpless in a sea of guilt."

In the summer of 2004, the alleged victim claimed he found Muth in bed with a young boy and subsequently reported the incident and his own abuse to the diocese's bishop and vicar general.

The plaintiff claims his hours and pay at the churches were subsequently reduced and he was fired in July 2005. The plaintiff is seeking unspecified damages.

Barbara Dorris, outreach coordinator for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, which held a news conference to call attention the suit, said victims of clergy abuse often feel a link to their assailant that defies many people's understanding - something she said could explain the plaintiff's relationship with Muth as an adult.

"It's an emotional bond that's there," she said. "It's mind control."


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