Catholic Diocese of Lexington names 20 priests accused of sexually abusing minors

By Karla Ward
LexingtHerald Leader
August 15, 2020

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The Catholic Diocese of Lexington on Friday released a list of priests who served in Kentucky who have been accused of sexually abusing minors.

The list names 10 priests against whom allegations of abuse were substantiated; four priests who had “credible” allegations against them, indicating that the allegations were more than likely true; six priests who served in the Lexington diocese but were credibly accused of abuse in another diocese; and one priest against whom allegations were found to be unsubstantiated.

“I, along with every priest in the Diocese of Lexington, am very sorry for what this report describes and apologize to every person who has ever been abused or injured in any way by one who was ordained to represent Christ,” Lexington Bishop John Stowe wrote in a letter that accompanies the report.

Most of the abuse by clergy outlined in the report happened before 1988, when the area covered by the Lexington diocese was governed by the Diocese of Covington and the Archdiocese of Louisville, the reviewers found. Two cases, however, are more recent.

“There are no pending allegations of child sexual abuse involving any priest in active ministry,” the report states.

The founding bishop of the Lexington diocese, James Kendrick Williams, who resigned in 2002 amid allegations of abuse earlier in his career, is among those on the list of priests accused elsewhere.

A civil suit filed by two alleged victims in Louisville was “settled as part of a large class action,” the report states. It notes that Williams has “denied all allegations,” and no criminal charges have been filed against him.

Williams was named in the February 2019 Report on Sexual Abuse in the Archdiocese of Louisville.

“The report does not reach a conclusion on whether the allegations are substantiated because the case has been referred to the Vatican,” the Lexington report states.

The list was compiled by two Lexington attorneys, Allison Connelly and Andrew Sparks, who were given “unlimited access to the diocese’s priest personnel files and the files of any reports of abuse made to the diocese,” according to a news release.

The diocese said the team also “conducted interviews, talked with the diocesan victims’ assistance coordinator and met with the Diocesan Review Board.”

The diocese said it received the list Thursday.

A second report will be posted online soon that “will include a deeper analysis of the phenomenon of clergy sexual abuse of minors and will provide recommendations for response,” the diocese said.

Stowe commissioned the report in December 2018, saying “if these attorneys find that we in the Catholic Diocese of Lexington have been deficient in our reporting or response to allegations of abuse, I want to be able to correct that.”

Several months earlier, Stowe’s predecessor, Bishop Ronald Gainer, was accused of protecting abusive priests in Pennsylvania, where he left Lexington to serve. Gainer was bishop in Lexington from 2002 to 2014.

The report said 10 priests had substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of a minor. The reviewers wrote that, “based on the facts and circumstances, there is a reasonable certainty that the allegation is true and that the sexual abuse of a minor occurred.” Those priests include:

Raymond Chappa, 72, one known victim of abuse between 1984 and 1986 at Mother of Good Counsel Parish in Hazard. Report states: “Abuse confirmed through an interview with the victim by Child Protective Services on October 28, 2008; a civil settlement that was reached with the Franciscan Province of Saint John the Baptist on December 2008; and his laicization in 1996. Listed on the Diocese of Covington’s Substantiated Allegations List.”

William Joseph Fedders, 78, one known victim at Christ the King in Lexington in the early 1980s. The abuse was first reported to the diocese in a 1994 letter, but the authorities were not notified until 2004. The diocese initially found the allegations to be unsubstantiated. A civil suit filed in 2002 was dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired, but the report said the allegations were substantiated and were confirmed “through Fedders’ admission to a single incident of inappropriate sexual behavior with a minor.” He was initially removed from ministry in 2002 and permanently removed in 2004. Fedders is included on the Substantiated Allegations List in the Diocese of Covington.

James Edward Fritsch, 81, one known abuse victim in 1965. Fritsch was suspended in 1966 and laicized in 1969. Report states: “Abuse confirmed through a letter from the supervising priest and the supervising priest’s deposition from a civil suit filed in 2002; the lawsuit settled as a class in December 2004; his laicization; and, other reported allegations in Northern Kentucky and Owensboro. Listed on the Diocese of Covington’s Substantiated Allegations List.”

Stephen Francis Gallenstein, 72, one known abuse victim at Holy Family Catholic Church in Ashland. The abuse began in 1980 and continued for about 14 years. Report states: “Covington Diocese Bishop made aware of abuse through letters from the victim’s mother in the early 1980’s, which were found in the priest’s ‘Death Directives File,’ in 1993; Lexington Diocese wrote the Boyd County Commonwealth Attorney in January 2004. Abuse confirmed through the priest’s written admission; handwritten letters from the priest to the victim; a 2003 civil suit that was filed and settled; and, the permanent removal of the priest.” The Lexington diocese permanently removed Gallenstein from ministry in 2003. He is on the Substantiated Allegations List in the Diocese of Covington.

Carroll Howlin, deceased, two known victims from Whitley City in the 1990s. Serving under the Diocese of Joliet, Ill., Howlin was assigned to the Good Shepherd Catholic Chapel in Whitley City from 1977 to 2002. Report states: “Abuse confirmed through one of the victims’ accounts to his mother and grandmother in 1998; the Diocesan Review Board’s finding of credibility in 2004; multiple allegations of child sexual abuse beginning in 1972; two credible allegations found by the Diocese of Joliet; named in multiple civil lawsuits; and his removal from the ministry in 2010. Appears on Diocese of Joliet’s List of Priests with Credible Allegations of Child Sexual Abuse.” Howlin was placed on administrative leave in 2002 and permanently removed from ministry after a 2010 canonical trial.

Anthony Thomas Jablonowski, 83, one known victim in the early 1970s at Lexington Catholic High School. Abuse was reported to the Fayette County Attorney in a 2003 letter. He entered a no contest guilty plea to one count of taking indecent/immoral liberties with a 17-year-old boy in Cheyenne, Wyoming in 2004. The dioceses of Covington, Cheyenne, Tucson and Steubenville, as well as Glenmary Home Missions, include him on their lists of priests with credible allegations against them. Jablonowski was laicized in 2006.

Balthasar John Modica, deceased, between 1974 and 1978, one known victim at Mary Queen of the Holy Rosary in Lexington and multiple victims elsewhere. Report states: “Abuse confirmed through diocese documents that demonstrate Modica was warned several times for his behavior between 1974 and 1978 and then sent to Jemez Springs, New Mexico, for treatment for sexual misconduct; civil litigation in 2002; and, a guilty plea in 1978 related to smuggling drugs into a Kentucky prison to a young male inmate. Named on the Diocese of Covington’s Substantiated Allegations List.” Modica retired in 2000 and was suspended in 2002.

Joseph Nicholas Muench, 65, at least five known victims in the 1980s at Good Shepherd in Frankfort. An attorney representing three alleged victims notified the diocese of abuse in 2009. In 2010, Muench entered an Alford plea to one count of unlawful imprisonment, a felony, and one misdemeanor count of criminal attempt to commit sexual abuse. Report states: “Suspended by the Lexington Diocese in July 2009 and allegations were reported to authorities the same day. Resigned in 2010 as pastor of Mary Queen of the Holy Rosary. Case remanded to the Vatican in 2011. Vatican contacts Bishop April 2018 for an update. Case updated for Vatican, May 2018.”

Leonard Bernard Francis Nienaber, deceased, multiple victims at Mary Queen of the Holy Rosary, where he was assigned from 1960 to 1979. In 1994, he entered an Alford plea to 10 counts of child sexual abuse. The sentence was suspended, and Nienaber was sent to Servants of Paraclete in Dittmer, Mo., where he died in 2006 at age 99. Neinaber was responsible for victimizing 20 of the 24 victims named in a lawsuit settled by the Covington diocese in 2003. He is on the Substantiated Allegations List for the Covington diocese.

Joseph J. Pilger, deceased, one known victim at St. Paul Catholic Church in Lexington in 1962, multiple victims elsewhere. In 1994, Pilger entered an Alford plea to charges that he sexually abused two brothers and their cousin in Owensboro. Lawsuit filed and settled in 2003. He has 13 substantiated allegations listed on the Diocese of Owensboro’s List of Substantiated Allegations. Also included on the Substantiated Allegations List for the Covington diocese. He retired in 1990.

Four priests were found to have credible allegations against them. “Based on the facts and circumstances, the allegation is capable of being believed; it is more likely true than not,” the reviewers wrote. “In general, there is insufficient information to confirm the report although there are factors that make the allegation capable of being believed.” Those priests are:

Raymond Leo Broering, deceased, one victim alleges abuse at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Corbin in 1982.

Robert Paul Klein, deceased, one victim alleges abuse in 1964. Klein was assigned to Good Shepherd in Frankfort at that time.

Carl Casper Schaffer, deceased, brothers alleged being molested by Schaffer at Good Shepherd in Frankfort in the 1960s and ‘70s. Schaffer committed suicide in April 1993, a day after being questioned by the Kentucky State Police about an abuse allegation.

Patrick J. Walsh, deceased, two to three victims at Christ the King and Lexington Catholic High School, where he served from 1971 to 1974.

Six priests are listed as publicly accused elsewhere. The report says they are “priests who served in the territory of the Diocese of Lexington and against whom no allegation of child sexual abuse has been made but are listed by other dioceses as having a credible allegation of abuse of a minor.” They are:

Paul Marion Arbogast, deceased, included on the Substantiated Allegations List in the Diocese of Covington.

Peter Richardson, deceased, included on the credibly accused lists in the the dioceses of Cincinnati, Jackson and Nashville, as well as on the list of the Glenmary Home Missioners.

David Schilder, included on Diocese of Columbus, Ohio’s list of credibly accused clergy.

William Spine, 79, listed by the U.S.A. Midwest Province Jesuits as “having an established allegation of sexual abuse of a minor.”

James Kendrick Williams, 83, at least two allegations of sexual misconduct with minors in Louisville, case has been referred to the Vatican.

Irwin Charles Wolke, deceased, named on list of substantiated allegations in the Diocese of Covington.

One priest, William Poole, who died in 2018, was classified as having an unsubstantiated allegation of abuse.

The diocese said it urges anyone who has been abused through the church to report it to authorities and contact the diocese’s victims’ assistance coordinator, Laura Napora, at (859) 338-5695 or

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