Couple Expands Lawsuit against Archdiocese

By Peter Smith
February 14, 2011|head

An expanding lawsuit alleges that a former priest led a Catholic parish council in the Archdiocese of Louisville as recently as 2010, even as he was serving probation for his 2007 conviction in the rape of a teenage parishioner in the 1970s.

The archdiocese says the former priest, Bruce Ewing, was not a parish council president, but would investigate the claims.

The archdiocese's policy on sexual abuse, adopted in 2003 under the title “Restoring Trust,” says no one who has sexually abused a minor can serve in any ministry or volunteer role within the archdiocese.

The claim broadens a lawsuit filed in January by Margie Weiter, a former bookkeeper at St. Therese Church in Germantown, and her husband, Gary. She alleges she was fired in May 2010 in retaliation for objecting that the Rev. James Schook had been living on St. Therese property after being accused of sexual abuse at another parish the previous year, mingling unsupervised with children and other parishioners.

The latest claim centers on the alleged role of Ewing, who was sentenced to five years' probation for his 2007 conviction on a charge of third-degree rape of a teenage girl in the 1970s at a different parish in Louisville where he was then a priest. Ewing left the active ministry in the 1970s, married and was formally dismissed from the priesthood in 2004, according to the archdiocese.

The lawsuit says Ewing, despite his criminal conviction, led the parish council of St. Therese Church in Germantown in 2010. Under his leadership, the lawsuit alleges, the council allegedly dismissed the Weiters' concerns about Schook.

The amended complaint was filed on Friday.

The lawsuit adds Ewing, now 63, to a list of defendants that already includes Schook, the archdiocese, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz and the Rev. Anthony Olges, pastor of St. Therese.

The lawsuit alleges that when Gary Weiter tried to talk to the parish council about his wife's dismissal in May 2010, the council only gave him five minutes to speak.

“He was told their proceedings were secret, and no further information would be provided him,” the lawsuit said.

The couple's lawyer, Mikell Grafton, said: “The problem with (Ewing's) serving as the arbiter of the Weiters' fate (is that) he himself was a priest that was convicted of rape.”

Brian Reynolds, chancellor and chief administrative officer of the archdiocese, said the church had not received the amended complaint and could not comment on it.

He said Ewing was not parish council president, but he is a member of St. Therese.

“I am unsure of his role” in the matter, he said. “…We will have to look into this further.”

Reynolds did confirm that Schook resided at St. Therese for a time, but had left before the May 2010 council meeting.

The archdiocese said Margie Weiter was dismissed because of budget cuts, not retaliation.

Claims in a lawsuit give only one side of a case.

Olges declined to comment on Monday. Ewing did not immediately return a phone message.

The revised lawsuit also formally accuses Olges of “trespass” and inflicting “great fear and emotional distress” on the Weiters after they filed their original suit on Jan. 27.

The complaint says Olges personally delivered a letter to Margie Weiter at her current workplace at another Catholic parish, Our Mother of Sorrows, and to the Weiters' home, dismissing them as volunteers in the parish bingo program.

The lawsuit says Olges caused Gary Weiter to fear for the couple's safety by saying, “Now, you'll see what your wife has done!!”

Reynolds said church officials decided to close the bingo program temporary because of the litigation.

Olges “delivered letters to Mrs. Weiter on our property at Our Mother of Sorrows and brought a copy of the letter to Mr. Weiter's home,” Reynolds said. “This was to prevent them from arriving at the bingo and finding it closed. I regret they found this hurtful.”

Schook, who had been pastor of St. Ignatius Martyr Church, was placed on leave in July 2009 pending an investigation by the archdiocese into the first of a series of allegations he had committed sexual abuse in the 1970s and 1980s. In March 2010, the archdiocese said it had confirmed some allegations and removed Schook from ministry permanently.

During the archdiocese's investigation, the lawsuit alleges Schook was living without supervision at St. Therese. Archdiocesan policy prohibits a priest under investigation from unsupervised contact with children.

Ewing worked as a priest in the 1970s and, according to his 2007 conviction in Jefferson Circuit Court, began a two-year sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl while a priest at St. Vincent de Paul Church. Ewing denied the charges.

Reporter Peter Smith can be reached at (502) 582-4469.


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