Lawsuit Claims Sex Abuse by Priest, Monk

By Judy L. Thomas
Kansas City Star
September 1, 2011

A Kansas City-area man filed a lawsuit today accusing a local priest and a monk of sexually abusing him on multiple occasions when he was a boy.

The lawsuit, filed in Jackson County Circuit Court by Jon David Couzens Jr., alleges Monsignor Thomas J. O'Brien, a retired priest in the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese, and the Rev. Isaac True of Conception Abbey in northwest Missouri, molested him beginning when he was 9 to 10 years old. The lawsuit also names the diocese and Conception Abbey as defendants.

Couzens, 41, alleges in the lawsuit that True, a relative, molested him for several months in the late 1970s and shortly after that, O'Brien sexually abused him and three other youths when they were serving as altar boys at Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Independence. One of those boys later committed suicide, he said.

"We have all of these little boys who are burying the sins of these priests in their own guilt and shame," said Couzens, surrounded by two dozen family members and friends at a news conference outside the diocesan headquarters. "It's time to stop."

Couzens said the abuse continued until he graduated from 8th grade. He said he didn't talk about the abuse until this summer, when one of his best friends revealed that her daughter had attended St. Patrick's school in the Northland and was a possible victim of the Rev. Shawn Ratigan, who is facing state and federal child pornography charges.

"She was devastated, and called me and it just touched too close to home once again," Couzens said, his voice and hands shaking. "I began reliving everything that happened to me and the three other boys, so I decided it was time to talk."

Abbot Gregory Polan, the head of Conception Abbey, told The Kansas City Star that he hadn't seen the lawsuit yet and couldn't discuss it.

O'Brien couldn't be reached.

The Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese said in a statement that True was not assigned to pastoral ministry at Nativity Parish but celebrated Mass there on a few occasions. In 2007, the diocese said, True was appointed for the first time to parish ministry in the diocese and currently serves as pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish, in Bethany, Mo.

The diocese said O'Brien retired from parish ministry in 1984 and served as a part-time hospital chaplain until 2002.

"He was permanently restricted from any form of public ministry or from representing himself as a Catholic priest in 2002," the diocese said.

O'Brien has been named in numerous sexual abuse lawsuits in recent years. True was the President-Rector of Conception Seminary from 1973 to 1988 and was honored last year for serving 50 years of religious life.


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