Couple Sues Priests, Church over Firing

January 27, 2011

[the lawsuit]

A Louisville woman says the Catholic Church covered up a priest's behavior -- and fired her when she tried to complain.

On Thursday, a Louisville couple filed suit against local priests and the Roman Catholic Bishop of Louisville.

According to the suit, Gary Weiter Sr. was just a 15-year-old in 1964 when he was "repeatedly assaulted and sexually abused" by Edwin Scherzer, a former priest at St. Therese Catholic Church in the 1000 block of Schiller Ave.

The suit claims that, during the sexual encounters, Scherzer would physically abuse Weiter and other children aged nine or above at the parish, causing them to fear for their lives.

"It was Scherzer's practice during and as part of his sexual abuse of Plaintiff Gary Weiter and other children at St. strangle them...until Plaintiff and other children approached unconsciousness while Scherzer reached sexual climax," the suit claims.

In 1967, Gary Weiter Sr. and Margie Weiter, a co-plaintiff in the suit, were married. They also became members of the St. Therese Catholic Church. In 1999, St. Therese and St. Elizabeth Catholic Church were combined. In June 2009, Father Anthony Olges became parish priest of a cluster of churches that included St. Therese Catholic Church.

Margie Weiter became the bookkeeper and secretary at St. Therese in March 2002. One month later, Gary Weiter, Sr. -- along with several others -- filed a class action lawsuit against the Archdiocese over alleged abuse committed by representatives of the Catholic Church, including Edwin Scherzer.

That case was settled in June 2003. As part of the settlement, the Catholic Church made financial payments to the plaintiffs and the Archbishop apologized for the abuse. Also in 2003, the church implemented a "Safe Environment Program" to educate church employees about the dangers of sexual abuse.

Since then, additional allegations of sex abuse have emerged. On July 30, 2009, James R. Schook, the pastor of St. Ignatius Martyr, was placed on a leave of absence after he was accused of abusing a teenager.

It's shortly after that, the suit alleges, that Father Anthony Olges tried to cover up what Schook had done.

"Olges caused Defendant Schook to be secretly relocated to the St. Therese Rectory, although as Defendant Olges then well knew, Defendant Schook was under investigation for sexual child abuse and was not to be around children or among other unaware parishioners," the suit states.

Schook's assignment to St. Therese created an uncomfortable situation for Gary Weiter, Sr., according to the suit. Margie Weiter, his wife, approached Olges and told him she didn't believe Schook should have been assigned there.

"In response to Plaintiff Margie Weiter's complaint regarding the presence at St. Therese of Defendant Schook, a known child abuser, Defendant Olges not only ignored her complaints, but instructed her that she was not to reveal to any person that Defendant Schook was housed at St. Therese," the suit states.

When Margie Weiter took her complaint to the business manager and pastoral associate at St. Therese, they told her that they supported Schook's presence at the church and that he, "deserved to be taken care of."

The suit also criticizes the church for refusing to honor its policy that Schook should be removed from active ministry and segregated from unsupervised contact with children.

"Defendant Schook was openly present at St. Therese and walked around unsupervised at the Parish and Rectory at St. Therese in shorts and/or swimming trunks, sandals and t-shirts in front of Plaintiffs Gary and Margie Weiter and others, including children, who were frequently at the St. Therese Rectory."

In fact, according to the suit, Schook spends the majority of his day unsupervised in the area of the rectory frequented by parishioners including children.

The suit goes on to say that Gary Weiter, Sr. suffers from depression and post traumatic stress as the result of the abuse he allegedly received from Scherzer -- and that Schook was "secreted" in the same room at the rectory where the alleged abuse took place. Because of Schook's presence, Gary Weiter, Sr. was unable to continue coming to the church.

When his wife, Margie Weiter, approached Schook to suggest that it wasn't appropriate for him to be St. Therese, he allegedly told her that the Archdiocese, "owed him a place to live regardless of his crimes."

On March 24, 2010, Schook was relieved of his priestly duties, but allowed to remain a priest (though he could not present himself publicly as a priest, wear priestly clothing or have contact with children.) Archbishop Kurtz ordered Schook to devote his life to "prayer and penance" and he was moved to an apartment complex that specifically houses priests accused of abuse.

"Defendant School would not only be in the presence of Plaintiff Weiter's wife, Margie Weiter, but also around and in the presence of children and other parishioners, including Plaintiff Gary Weiter, Sr.," the suit claims.

Months later, Margie Weiter was told that her role as bookkeeper and receptionist was being eliminated.

After repeated failed attempts to contact Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, Margie Weiter showed up on the doorstep of his home to complain. The suit claims that Kurtz's representatives told her that no policies had been violated, that they should find another church to go to and that her husband should "get over" his emotional distress.

The suit accuses the church of the wrongful termination of Margie Weiter and committing "outrageous" behavior. It demands financial rewards in the form of compensatory and punitive damages.

Late Thursday afternoon, the Archdiocese of Louisville released a written statement in response to the lawsuit:

"The lawsuit filed today came as a surprise, and the Archdiocese does not comment on pending litigation or personnel issues.

Margie Weiter's position ended as part of a staff reduction process when the parish offices of St. Therese, St. Elizabeth, and Holy Family merged. Decisions were based upon seniority. After her job ended, she was assisted in securing a position at another parish, where she still works. As always, we will investigate this personnel issue.

Gary Weiter was a part of the 2003 sexual abuse settlement with the Archdiocese, and we regret to hear of his complaint. We will again reach out to him and offer pastoral assistance and counseling."

Late Thursday, Mikell Grafton, the Weiters' attorney, told Fox 41 News the situation mirrors a horror movie.

""It's the horror movie where you convince somebody there's a monster in the house, and then you find out that the people you've gone to trust and ask for help to deal with the monster are the people who put him there to begin with," Grafton said.

Louisville area members of SNAP, a group of priest sexual abuse victims, said the Schook situation raises questions of trust with the Archdiocese, especially in terms of its latest policies developed after the 2003 sexual abuse settlements.

"There's a lack of trust, and the Archdiocese needs to rebuild that trust," said SNAP member Cal Pfeiffer.

Claims in a lawsuit reveal one side of a case. It is assigned to division seven of Jefferson Circuit Court in Louisville.


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