Rhinebeck priest removed from ministry in wake of sexual abuse allegations
By Ariél Zangla
March 22, 2016
[with copy of a letter from the archdiocese]
RHINEBECK >> A Dutchess County parish priest has been removed from ministry permanently after decades-old sexual abuse allegations against him were found to have merit.
Law enforcement and the New York Archdiocesan Review Board examined the allegations against Peter Kihm and found them to be credible, Bishop Dominick Lagonegro wrote in a March 14 letter to parishioners of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Rhinebeck. As a result of that review, he said, Kihm cannot return to ministry.
Kihm also requested, and has received, a “return to the lay state” by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Lagonegro wrote.
“This means that he will never again be able to serve as a priest here in this archdiocese or anywhere else in the world,” the bishop wrote.
Kihm was suspended on Jan. 25, 2015, as the parish priest at the Good Shepherd and St. Joseph churches in Northern Dutchess based on allegations that, approximately 30 years ago, he sexually abused an underage male. He was suspended by church officials pending an investigation by law-enforcement officials.
“As far as the church is concerned, Kihm is no longer a priest,” Joseph Zwilling, director of communications for the Archdiocese of New York, said Tuesday. He said Kihm’s laicization, or return to the lay state, concludes the archdiocese’s actions in the matter. But if new allegations arise, they will be investigated, Zwilling said.
Zwilling said that after Kihm was suspended, the archdiocese informed all his former assignments of the allegations and encouraged any other possible victims to come forward. Other people did come forward to make similar allegations, Zwilling said, but he declined to say how many. He said the fact that the allegations were similar helped the Archdiocesan Review Board make its decision.
The review board is made up of lay people involved in the legal, medical, psychology, education and victim abuse fields.
Kihm taught at the Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic High School in Poughkeepsie from 1987 to 1992, but the incidents alleged did not occur there, Zwilling said previously.
At the time Kihm was suspended, Dutchess County District Attorney William Grady said he had been working with state police to investigate the alleged abuse. He said criminal charges in the Kihm matter were not likely because the alleged incident happened outside the state’s five-year statute of limitations in such cases. That statute begins when an accuser turns 18, Grady has said.
In New York, civil damages for certain sex crimes, including sexual abuse of a minor, may be brought within five years of the acts constituting the sexual offense.
Since Kihm sought laicization, it made the process to remove him from ministry move more quickly, Zwilling said. He said if Kihm had fought the issue, it would have taken longer for the archdiocese to remove him.
Zwilling said Kihm sought a return to lay state in late summer or early fall of last year.
Kihm since has moved out of New York state, Zwilling said.