Archdiocese: Louisville Church Wrongly Allowed Rapist to Serve on Parish Board

By Peter Smith
The Courier-Journal
February 16, 2011

Colleen Powell, with S.N.A.P. (Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests), reads a statement outside of the Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville headquarters.

The Archdiocese of Louisville has admitted that a Louisville parish allowed a convicted rapist to serve on a volunteer board, violating church policies.

Bruce Ewing had been allowed to serve on a volunteer parish council of St. Therese Church in Germantown despite his 2007 conviction of third-degree rape, involving a teenage girl in the 1970s when he was a priest.

Ewing resigned from the council Tuesday, the archdiocese said. That came a day after his presence on the board was spotlighted in a pending lawsuit.

"All employees and volunteers who work with children in Catholic parishes and schools must undergo background checks and participate in training," said a statement released by the archdiocese Wednesday. "In Mr. Ewing's case, it was assumed that since he was not working with children, his volunteer service on the parish council was acceptable. Per our sexual abuse policies, this is not correct and will not continue."

Ewing's presence on the parish board which the archdiocese described as a voluntary advisory committee prompted a denunciation by a victim's advocacy group.

"It doesn't serve anybody well to keep doing the wrong things," said Colleen Powell of the Louisville chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests at a sidewalk press conference Wednesday morning outside the archdiocese's headquarters on College Street. "It totally undermines my trust in their credibility."

Asked who decided to put Ewing on the council and whether anyone would be disciplined, archdiocesan spokeswoman Cecelia Price said she could not comment because "all of these issues concern pending litigation involving numerous individuals."

Powell and other SNAP members said they are holding Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz accountable.

"He should apologize for and explain this irresponsible move," said a statement from SNAP's Louisville and national leaders. "And he should severely discipline those responsible."

Ewing's 2007 trial drew extensive publicity. His conviction involved a sexual relationship with a girl, beginning when she was 15. Ewing is serving five years' probation.

He left the ministry in the 1970s and married, but he was not formally dismissed from the priesthood until 2004, according to the archdiocese.

The developments followed new allegations in a lawsuit first filed in January by a Louisville couple against the archdiocese and other parties in Jefferson Circuit Court.

Margie and Gary Weiter alleged that she was fired as a bookkeeper at St. Therese in May 2010 in retaliation for complaining about the Rev. James Schook residing at the parish in previous months. The archdiocese says she was laid off because of budget cuts, and she now works part time at another parish.

The Weiters expanded their suit Monday, alleging that Ewing was head of the parish council and had a role in dismissing their concerns. The archdiocese said Ewing was a member but never head of that council.

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 that he had committed sexual abuse in the 1970s and 1980s. In March 2010, the archdiocese said it had confirmed some allegations and permanently removed Schook from ministry.

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

The policy adopted under the title "Restoring Trust" in 2003 also reflects the national Catholic bishops' policy adopted in 2002 in mandating the removal of any priest, employee or volunteer from all ministry for any instances of sexual abuse of a minor.

The archdiocese says Schook lived at St. Therese for about seven months while its investigation was pending.

An adult alleging sexual abuse when a minor by Schook met on Tuesday with Louisville Metro Police's Crimes Against Children Unit, according to spokeswoman Alicia Smiley. The unit has also interviewed others alleging abuse when they were minors, she has said. To date no charges have been filed.

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

After leaving the ministry, Ewing has worked in a variety of jobs, including as an aide to members of the Metro Council and Board of Aldermen.

Mikell Grafton, the lawyer representing the Weiters, said she is "pleased that the archdiocese has taken the action that they have, but it doesn't convince me that agents of the archdiocese were not aware of Bruce Ewing's presence at St. Therese and Schook's presence at St. Therese from the outset."

Phone messages to Ewing and the Rev. Anthony Olges, pastor of St. Therese, were not returned Wednesday. Olges has previously referred requests for comment to the archdiocese.

The lawsuit names Olges, Ewing, Kurtz and the archdiocese as defendants.

Gary Weiter was among 243 plaintiffs who settled with the archdiocese in 2003 for $25.7 million over claims of sexual abuse. Weiter said he was the victim of another priest at St. Therese decades ago.

Individual payouts were not revealed, but what they received in the settlement fell into three categories, based on the abuse suffered. In one group, six plaintiffs averaged $26,666; in the second group, 160 averaged $82,622; and in the third group, 77 averaged $153,510.

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


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