Sex-Abuse Lawsuit Filed
Accused Priest Is Also Target of Indictment in Nude Photos

By Ron Avery
Philadelphia Daily News
April 19, 1996

A Bucks County man has filed a civil suit charging he was sexually abused and molested during his childhood by a Catholic priest who took him under his wing.

The suit seeks damages in excess of $50,000 against the Rev. Thomas Kohler, 54, and the archdiocese of Philadelphia on behalf of Kevin MacKenzie, 35, of Warminster.

In an unrelated case, Kohler is under indictment in Cape May County on criminal charges involving a nude photo session with an underaged boy in 1994.

The civil suit, filed in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, alleges that for a five-year period, from 1973 to 1978, the priest took the boy on numerous overnight trips, including a trip to Rome, where he was given alcohol, molested and shown pornography.

At the time, Kohler was a priest at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Southampton, Bucks County and MacKenzie was an altar boy under his supervision.

MacKenzie suppressed all memories of the alleged abuse until 1993 and is now getting psychiatric treatment, said his attorney Louis R. Busico of New Hope.

Archdiocese spokeswoman Susan Gibbs said it had not yet received a copy of the suit. She said Kohler was on a "leave of absence."

Kohler, who had a home in Villas, N.J., was indicted last year for alleged involvement in a three-hour photo session with a boy.

The session took place at another house in Villas owned by ex-priest William O'Connell, said Barbara Marino, assistant Cape May County prosecutor.

O'Connell has pleaded guilty and is serving a 10-year sentence in a state facility for sex offenders.

Busico said the archdiocese is aware of MacKenzie's charges since he notified them about two years ago.

He then filed the same cases in Cape May County. He said church lawyers wanted to defend against the civil case in Philadelphia. After several court hearings a New Jersey judge agreed that the case belonged in either Philadelphia or Bucks County.

Pennsylvania has been less liberal than New Jersey in allowing "repressed memory" cases to exceed the statute of limitations. In Pennsylvania, most cases for civil damages must be filed within two years.

The suit says the boy traveled with Kohler to Rome and other European cities, Canada, New York and several New Jersey seaside resorts. It says MacKenzie was "continuously exposed to pornography, constantly provided with alcohol" and "continuously sexually abused."

The suit charges that the archdiocese was negligent for failing to investigate the priest's background and activities and for permitting him to take the youth on extended trips.

Busico said MacKenzie was interested in becoming a priest, and his parents felt honored that Kohler took a personal interest in their son. MacKenzie is married and has children.


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