Lawsuit Alleges Sexual Abuse at Independence Catholic Church

By Jeff Martin
The Examiner
September 2, 2011

Independence, MO

A former Independence man has filed a lawsuit against two priests who he claimed sexually abused him and three of his friends while they were young boys.

Jon David Couzens Jr., of Kansas City, filed the complaint Thursday afternoon in Jackson County Circuit Court. The 13 counts range from child sexual abuse to negligence by the Diocese of Kansas City, which operates the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Independence, where Couzens attended as a boy.

Listed as defendants were Monsignor Thomas J. O'Brien and Rev. Isaac True, as well as The Diocese of Kansas City/St. Joseph and Conception Abbey in northwest Missouri.

Couzens said he decided to come forward after news reports surfaced about Father Shawn Ratigan, a Clay County priest accused by both the state and federal government of child sexual abuse and other charges.

"A close friend of mine her daughter may have been a possible victim of Ratigan," Couzens said Thursday. "I thought about it after we spoke and I knew I just couldn't let it go on anymore.

"It has to stop."

Born in Kansas City, Couzens, 41, moved with his family to Independence when he was 3 years old. He began attending the school at Nativity and eventually served as an alter boy at the church.

When he was 9 years old, Couzens said, Father True began visiting the family at their home. Couzens said the priest found reasons to sit him on his lap, where he would fondle him, according to court documents.

The priest began calling Couzens several times, but the family became suspicious. When Father True invited Couzens to spend a weekend with him at Conception Abbey, where he was ordained in 1960 and has served as a priest ever since, the family refused.

When he was 10, Couzens met Father O'Brien through the Boy Scouts and, later, at Nativity. Couzens said O'Brien forced himself on him and three other boys. At times, O'Brien threatened that the boys would go to hell and that their parents would disown them if they revealed what was going on.

The alleged abuses by both True and O'Brien occurred from 1979 to 1983, according to documents.

That the abuse involved three boys and Couzens is what makes the matter most unusual, according to Rebecca Randles, the attorney representing Couzens.

The lawsuit also outlines claims that the diocese was negligent in handling investigations into O'Brien. Plaintiffs claim that the church began receiving reports of sexual abuse by O'Brien in 1972 but failed to properly investigate them.

Throughout the years, O'Brien worked in several churches and parishes, including St. Agnes in Springfield, Holy Trinity, St. Pius X Home (an orphanage), St. Joseph Orphan Girls Home and St. Joseph's Hospital. The lawsuit claims that O'Brien was transferred from facility to facility.

Couzens said he still keeps in contact with friends from the church and that he wouldn't be surprised to see others come forward.

"I wouldn't be surprised if 70 percent of the 40 kids who were in my class came forward," he said.

O'Brien, who has been retired from parish ministry since 1984 and restricted permanently from representing himself as a member of the clergy, has been accused of child sexual abuse in the past. In 2008, he was one of 12 priests who were the subjects of a $10 million settlement that the diocese reached with 47 plaintiffs.

In August, O'Brien was named as a defendant in a lawsuit alleging that a former Kansas City priest, Thomas Reardon, sexually abused a man while he was in middle school in the St. Elizabeth Parish in the late 1960s.

A spokesperson for the diocese issued a statement based on what leaders of the Survivor's Network of those Abused by Priests claimed.

"The SNAP release states that most of Couzens' abuse occurred at Nativity of Mary Parish, in Independence, in 1978-79, and later from 1981-82.

"The diocese has been able to confirm that Father True was never assigned to pastoral ministry at Nativity Parish. He did celebrate Mass at this parish on a few occasions. In 2007, with the approval of his religious superior, Father True was appointed for the first time to parish ministry in the diocese. He currently serves as pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish, in Bethany, Missouri.

A spokesperson for Conception Abbey, where True is currently a monk, said a statement is forthcoming.


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