Metro Man Files Lawsuit against Priests Claiming Sexual Abuse

By Tess Koppelman
Fox 4
September 1, 2011,0,4979025.story

KANSAS CITY, Mo. Jon David Couzens, Jr. says that he was abused by his priest when he was a child, and he can't stay silent about the abuse anymore.

Couzens has filed a civil lawsuit in Jackson County accusing two priests - one priest who is already named in 20 other lawsuits and the other a relative of Couzens - of sexual abuse over 30 years ago while Couzens was an alter boy at Nativity Church in Independence.

Couzens says that he had never planned to speak about the alleged abuse, but then a friend called him and said that her child was a victim in the recent Father Shawn Ratigan abuse case. That's when he decided to come forward.

"I began reliving everything that happened to me and the three boys, so I decided it was time to talk," said Couzens, who says that he is still angry and "disgusted" by what he says happened to him and his friends.

According to the lawsuit, Couzens says that a relative, Father Isaac True, sexually abused him during visits to his home, as well as on trips and at church. In addition, Couzens says that when he was 10, he and three friends were alter boys for Monsignor Thomas O'Brien, who abused them at church.

"(He would) make us get undressed, he would get undressed and have his way with us," said Couzens, who says that the abuse haunted him and his friends, one of whom committed suicide at age 14. "For 30 years I wanted to call his sister and parents and tell them the real reason why he did that."

Couzens did finally tell them recently, and they appeared at Thursday's news conference announcing the lawsuit to support him.

"Very devastating, heartbroken, all these years we didn't know. Now we know and it's so heartbreaking," said one of the family members, who said that for years they put their faith and trust in a Catholic priest. "All those years I was sending him to the devil."

In a statement from the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese, Father O'Brien has been restricted from public ministry since 2002. And the diocese adds that anyone with information about a church leader abusing a child should contact police or the church ombudsman.

In an exclusive interview with FOX 4 earlier, Couzens explained why he never told anybody of the alleged abuse.

"The three things that burn in my brain to this day that Monsignor O'Brien told all of us is number one, you'll get kicked out of the Catholic Church. Number two, you'll go straight to hell and number three, your parents will disown you," said Couzens.

Couzens says that the abuse changed him - he has had trust and anger issues - but now he feels relieved. He says that he hopes speaking out, and filing the lawsuit, will bring about changes in the church.

"We have all these little boys burying the sins of these priests in their own guilt and shame, and its time to stop," said Couzens.

This lawsuit comes on the same day that the diocese released its independent report of policies and claims of sexual misconduct. The investigation was led by former U.S. Attorney Todd Graves, and it found that the diocese didn't follow its own policies on how to handle complaints of sexual abuse.

The report also found confusing policies, inaction by church leaders and misplaced trust. It also suggests that abuse should be reported to the state, rather than being handled internally, and that the accused should be placed on administrative leave while an investigation is taking place.

The report also says that the church should offer more support to the victims of sexual abuse.

In a statement, Bishop Robert Finn said that the report will lead to changes.

"Graves' recommendations are comprehensive, thoughtful and detailed. We understand their importance and are focusing on them so we establish clear, strong and unequivocal procedures for all diocesan personnel and volunteers that ensure the safety of our children today and into the future," said Bishop Finn in the statement.

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