Parents File Wrongful Death Suit against Diocese, Priest

By Judy L. Thomas
Kansas City Star
September 6, 2011

A Missouri couple filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Catholic diocese and a retired priest today, alleging that their teenage son committed suicide in 1983 after being subjected to repeated sexual abuse.

The lawsuit, filed by Donald and Rosemary Teeman, alleges that their son, Brian, took his life because of longtime abuse by Monsignor Thomas J. O’Brien when the family was living in Independence. The suit says the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph caused Brian Teeman’s death because officials knew that O’Brien was sexually abusing boys but covered it up.

The lawsuit, filed in Jackson County Circuit Court, names O’Brien and the diocese as defendants and seeks unspecified damages.

The Teemans, speaking publicly for the first time, announced the lawsuit at a news conference outside the diocesan headquarters. Surrounded by three dozen friends and family members — some of them former classmates of Brian’s — they held pictures of Brian when he was in 8th grade at Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary School and as a freshman at Archbishop O’Hara High School.

The Teemans had never before revealed that their son had committed suicide. Brian died of a gunshot wound at his home on Nov. 1, 1983. The family lived in Independence at the time, and Brian was a freshman at O’Hara.

The parents themselves said they didn’t know about the abuse or the reason for Brian’s suicide until a classmate called them two months ago.

“We went through this 28 years ago, and I think it’s worse now, knowing what our son went through,” said Donald Teeman, his voice shaking. “When you put your trust in someone like a priest, when you drop your kids off in the morning to go into that school, as a parent you think you’re doing the best thing in the world for your kids.

“Then to find out that all you did was drop them off and the devil took over.”

The diocese issued a statement saying that it “has not received the lawsuit and cannot comment on the specifics of the allegations.”

The diocese said it received a complaint in 1983 accusing O’Brien of sexual misconduct with a teenage boy and that when confronted, O’Brien denied any wrongdoing. In October 1983, the diocese said, O’Brien was removed from his assignment as pastor of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Independence and sent for psychological evaluation and treatment in New Mexico and Washington, D.C.

After completing treatment, O’Brien returned to the diocese in June 1984 and was allowed to serve as a part-time hospital chaplain, the diocese said. He continued in that position until April 2002, when then-Bishop Raymond J. Boland told O’Brien that he no longer could present himself as a priest or celebrate Mass.

The first lawsuit alleging sexual abuse was filed against O’Brien in 2004, the diocese said. O’Brien now faces more than two dozen such lawsuits.

Brian Teeman’s sister, Jackie, said today that her brother’s death devastated the family.

“For 28 years we punished ourselves every day trying to come up with a reason for him to commit suicide,” she said.

The answer, she said, came eight weeks ago from a former classmate of Brian’s who had served as an altar boy with her brother. The classmate, Jon David Couzens, “told us exactly what happened to Brian, himself, and two other classmates,” his sister said.

The details that Couzens shared with them “make us sick to our stomachs,” she said.

Couzens, who filed a lawsuit against O’Brien and the diocese last week, stood with the Teemans at the news conference.

“That was the worst phone call of my life,” he said of the recent day when he called the family. However, he added, “People need to know it’s OK to speak. Let’s get it out there and get something done about it.”

To reach Judy L. Thomas, call 816-234-4334 or send email to


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