Oklahoma: Priest Stripped of Status As Cleric

Associated Press, carried in Joplin Globe
July 21, 2007

Tulsa, Okla. — A Catholic priest in Tulsa has been stripped of his clerical duties following an ecclesiastical trial over allegations of sexual abuse.

Ken Lewis, 49, is the only priest in the history of the Diocese of Tulsa to be "laicized," or dismissed from the clerical state. Lewis worked at St. Mary's Catholic Church and Holy Family Cathedral in Tulsa and other churches around the state before he resigned in 2002.

The decision of the ecclesiastical trial, the first ever held by the diocese, to strip Lewis of his status as a cleric was not official until the pope affirmed it. The Rev. Michael Knipe, canon lawyer and spokesman for the diocese, said word was received from Rome on July 5.

Lewis faced allegations that he had improper physical contact with boys. Knipe said details of the trial and the case against Lewis will not be made public.

Lewis has never been charged with a crime related to sexual abuse of a minor but has faced accusations since the early 1990s.

In the latest allegation, a Tulsa couple and their teenage son filed a molestation lawsuit against Lewis in March. That suit alleges that in 2001, Lewis molested the boy, then 9 years old, in a Chicago hotel room while the priest and the boy's family were visiting that city.

The suit further alleges that the Diocese of Tulsa was negligent in failing to warn the family about Lewis' "dangerous and exploitive propensities as a child sexual abuser.

Jeff Anderson, a Minneapolis attorney representing the family, said the case has been assigned to a judge. He said he was disappointed that criminal charges have not been filed against Lewis.

"It's inexplicable. Whatever reasons have been given to us are not satisfactory," he said.

"I'm gratified to hear he no longer enjoys the status of priest, and can no longer use his collar to hurt others," Anderson said.

Repeated attempts to reach Tulsa attorney Clark Brewster, who represented Lewis in the Chicago abuse case, were unsuccessful.

Bishop Edward Slattery, in a statement to be made public in the diocesan publication, The Eastern Oklahoma Catholic, expressed his "profound regret" that any cleric in the diocese would abuse those entrusted to his care and offered his deepest apology to anyone who may have been harmed by a priest or deacon in the diocese.

"I deplore the grave evil of sexual abuse of children and young people, and I want to reiterate my concern and the Church's commitment to protect our children," he said.

Lewis, who was ordained a priest in 1991 at Holy Family Cathedral in Tulsa, faced accusations of inappropriate behavior with boys in 1993.

Those allegations involved physical contact with boys while he was associate pastor at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Tulsa. Slattery investigated at that time and removed Lewis from his position at St. Mary's.

Lewis was sent to a psychiatric treatment facility but returned to active ministry in Tulsa in 1995 under the condition that he not be alone with minors.

He was associate pastor at Holy Family Cathedral in Tulsa and also served Sacred Heart Church in Fairfax, St. Joseph Church in Cleveland, Okla., St. John's Church in Pawnee and St. Joseph Church in Hominy. In June 2001, he was appointed pastor of St. John's Catholic Church in McAlester.

In 2002, Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris looked into the early 1990s allegations against Lewis but declined to file criminal charges, saying the statute of limitations had expired.


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