John Doe Lawsuits Allege Sexual Abuse by Priests Years Ago

By Joe Lambe
Kansas City Star
February 25, 2008

Two new John Doe lawsuits filed Monday allege that Kansas City priests sexually abused children decades ago.

For the first time, accusations are raised against James Lawbaugh, who left the priesthood 39 years ago. A lawsuit contends he molested a 10-year-old Baptist boy at St. Vincent's Church at 31st Street and Flora Avenue in 1968.

That boy, now 50, says the abuse happened in a short-lived Catholic program for inner-city youths during and after the riots that followed Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination.

Reached by phone Monday at his Florida home, Lawbaugh denied the allegations.

"Nothing like that happened," he said.

The other lawsuit alleges that Thomas Reardon sexually abused a boy of age 11 or 12 in either 1981 or 1982 at St. Regis School in Kansas City.

This marks the 19th lawsuit filed against Reardon, who is among the most sued priests in Missouri for such cases, said Rebecca Randles, the attorney who filed both suits Monday.

Reardon has denied all such allegations. He declined to comment Monday. His attorney did not return calls for comment.

The Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph also is a defendant in the lawsuits, which claim negligent supervision of the priests.

Rebecca Summers, a diocesan spokeswoman, noted that Reardon has not worked as a priest since 1989. She declined comment on the lawsuits.

"The ongoing goal of the diocese is simple and clear: We pledge to do everything possible to address past acts of abuse and prevent it in the future," she said.

Lawbaugh left the priesthood in 1969 to marry. He was a member of the Vincentians, an order of priests and brothers who teach in universities and serve the poor through parish work and social service agencies.

The Kansas City man who sued him agreed to speak with a reporter on the condition his name not be used.

He said he grew up poor, one of 13 children in a black family with too little food and clothing.

In the months during and after the riots, he and his siblings participated in a Catholic program that included free lunches and occasional treats, he said.

Lawbaugh took them horseback riding, swimming and to movies, and oversaw them on the playground, the man said.

The lawsuit alleges that at some point Lawbaugh began abusing the boy sexually, with the abuse lasting about a year.

Lawbaugh behaved as though the abuse were normal, the lawsuit says, and suggested that he was "providing spiritual counseling, comfort, mentoring and advice to plaintiff."

John Doe says that not long afterward, he started using drugs and alcohol and developed lifelong substance abuse problems that sent him to prison and helped end two marriages.

He said he saw Randles' name in a newspaper article about priest sex abuse and decided to tell someone for the first time what happened.

Lawbaugh said he does not remember the program the plaintiff describes.

"I never, never abused a child at all," he said.

After marrying, Lawbaugh had two sons and earned a master's degree in business, he said. He worked in jobs that involved Boston community action programs, Massachusetts vocational education work and sales before moving to Florida to care for his aging parents, he said.

John Doe is asking other victims to come forward.

Lawbaugh said, "There's nothing on my conscience to cause me to worry."

To reach Joe Lambe, call 816-234-4314 or send e-mail to


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