Midlands Catholic Man Tells Story of Sexual Abuse

WIS [South Carolina]
August 9, 2006

(Lugoff) August 8, 2006 - The Catholic Diocese of Charleston has agreed to settle a case brought by four men who say as boys they were sexually molested. One of those men lives in the Midlands and he shared his story with WIS.

Long before he moved his family to Lugoff, and long before he worked in the medical field or served in the military, John Morris had a secret. One known only to him and a Low Country priest, "What Father did, he took advantage of my youth and my naiiveness."

Morris says while living at a Catholic orphanage in Charleston in 1967 and 1968, he was repeatedly sexually molested by Father Lawrence Sheedy, "And because he was my priest, unfortunately I allowed it."

In court documents filed as part of a class action lawsuit, Morris says Sheedy gave him beer and performed sexual acts on him. Morris was 13 years old when the incidents began. He says the encounters took place at least once a week. A court document says Morris never said "no" to Sheedy because "he never knew that 'no' was a word to say to a priest and that he thought that what Sheedy was doing was an expression of Sheedy's love."

The relationship ended months later after a woman identified as "Mother Superior Miriam" questioned Morris about why he was spending so much time with Father Sheedy. "It was very difficult to tell sister, Mother Superior, that, 'Hey look, Father is abusing me.'"

Morris says shortly after the allegations reached former Bishop Ernest Unterkoefler, Sheedy was transferred to Arizona. Sheedy later died.

Two years ago, Morris joined three other plaintiffs in the lawsuit, accusing Sheedy and another Catholic priest of sexual misconduct.

In June, the Diocese of Charleston settled the suit before a mediator. Terms of the settlement require the Diocese to set up a $12 million fund. It includes $5 million dollars by a Letter of Credit with an additional $7 million dollars if the credit amount is drawn down to $1 million dollars.

Morris expected an earlier resolution, "We shouldn't have had to go this far. You know, the Diocese should have been right there in my opinion, right there willing to help."

The Diocese also agreed to pay a total of $460 thousand dollars to the four plaintiffs. Morris receives $160,000, money he says he's using to pay for the psychological counseling that has helped him deal with the trauma of his early teens.

Despite all of this, he says, he is still a practicing Catholic and still loves the church, "I think the holy Catholic Church is sound. The doctrine that I believe in, I think is sound. Like I said, I just think there are certain people in the Church that give it the black eye."

Morris says that $12 million fund will be used to pay for any additional claims lodged against the Diocese.

WIS asked the official spokesman for the Diocese of Charleston to explain the fund. Stephen Gajdosk said early Tuesday evening he was checking with the church's legal office. Morris' lawyer, former Circuit Judge Larry Richter, has not been available for comment.

Reported by Jack Kuenzie
Posted by Chantelle Janelle


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