|Diocese Covered up Abuse, Lawsuit Says
By Tom Morton
Jackson Hole Star-Tribune
November 8, 2008
A priest who pleaded guilty to indecent liberties with a female minor in Casper in the 1970s has been sued along with the Catholic Diocese of Cheyenne for covering up the abuse, according to a lawsuit filed in Natrona County District Court this week.
"Defendant Diocese knew and/or had reason to know of the sexual misconduct of Father (John) Murray against prior minor victims," according to the complaint filed by the victim's attorney Robert Reese of Green River. Reese declined further comment.
The Diocese of Cheyenne covers the state of Wyoming and includes about 50,000 Catholics.
Diocesan administrator the Rev. Michael Carr called Murray's behavior deplorable, but said the statute of limitations has run out regarding any legal action against the diocese.
Murray, reached at his home in Cheyenne, told him his attorney advised him not to comment on the case. Attorney Michael Krampner did not return a call late Friday for comment.
The victim, who is now in her 40s and living in Albany County, was in her teens when her family moved to Casper and joined St. Anthony's Catholic Church, according to the complaint.
The girl met Murray in 1976 and spent time with him at church services and retreats for teenagers. From mid-1976 to mid-1977, he sexually abused her at least four times in Natrona County, according to the complaint.
She eventually suffered from post traumatic stress disorder, according to the complaint.
While she had reported the abuse to a doctor in 2003, her psychic trauma escalated when she began having anxiety attacks and nightmares of scenes at St. Anthony's Church and a new supervisor appearing dressed in a Roman collar, according to the complaint.
About that time, her son was near the same age as she was when she was abused, and she was about the same age of Murray at the time of the abuse. "At that moment, Plaintiff, for the first time, fully realized the nature and gravity of Father Murray's conduct," according to the complaint.
She reported the abuse to the Casper Police Department, and in June 2006 Murray pleaded guilty to engaging in indecent liberties with a minor.
At that time, Carr said Murray had been volunteering at St. Anthony's but was relieved of his duties when the charges were filed. There was no indication Murray engaged in improper behavior with any other young people, Carr added.
The victim contradicted that assertion in the lawsuit.
Before Murray was reassigned to a church in Lander in 1976, he sexually abused her, and told her that he had previous intimate relations with young women, according to the complaint.
One of those relationships led to his transfer to Casper, and his involvement with the victim caused his transfer to Lander, according to the complaint.
The victim accuses both Murray and the diocese of negligence, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
She also accuses the diocese alone of fraud, and negligent supervision because it knew or should have known about the abuse, warned families, and prevented Murray from having contact with children, according to the complaint.
The victim, according to the complaint, "has suffered, and continues to suffer great pain of mind and body, shock, emotional distress, physical manifestations of emotional distress, embarrassment, loss of self-esteem, disgrace, humiliation, and loss of enjoyment of life."
Cheyenne lawyer Paul Hickey, who is representing the diocese, said Murray no longer can offer the sacraments or publicly present himself as a priest.
However, the victim's time to file this lawsuit has passed, Hickey said. "It's just a sad, sad thing and we'll get it cleared."
The Cheyenne diocese, Carr said, continues to offer counseling and other services.
The diocese also joined other dioceses in updating its policies about sexual misconduct following the nationwide pedophile priest scandals earlier in the decade. "We've certainly tried to make great strides and hope it never happens again," he said.
Carr added that he didn't know what happened 30 years ago regarding Murray's transfers.
However, the national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests said the Cheyenne diocese's response fits a pattern of protecting itself at the expense of victims.
The probability of it not knowing about Murray's behavior is "extraordinarily unlikely" in the light of how other dioceses have behaved, according to a spokesman. "In almost every case, evidence surfaces that at least one or a half-dozen church officials knew or suspected abuse or concealed it," said David Clohessy.
The Catholic church is too rigid and closed for such information to be kept secret, he said.
Clohessy, who himself was abused for four years when young, urged Catholics to be sensitive to the situation, try to learn if others in the diocese have been abused, and report any abuse to secular authorities.
"Much to our frustration and sadness, any report to church officials instead of to law enforcement," he said.
Reach Tom Morton at (307) 266-0592, or at Tom.Morton@trib.com.
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