Ex-Worker Sues Archdiocese ; Action Follows Issue over Priest

By J. Michael Parker
San Antonio Express-News [Texas]
June 30, 2001

A former Catholic parish secretary has filed a $5 million lawsuit against the Archdiocese of San Antonio, claiming church officials failed to stop a priest's sexual misconduct and spread her confidential allegations about it among co-workers to make her quit her job.

Jerrilynn White, 43, of Houston filed the suit in 166th District Court, seeking $1 million in actual damages and $4 million in punitive damages for slander and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently dismissed a complaint White filed in September that also claimed the archdiocese had discussed her complaints against Father Michael Christopher Kenny, 52, with chancery and parish employees to make her leave her job.

In the lawsuit, White, a secretary in several area parishes for 23 years, claims Kenny seduced her when she was a teen-ager attending St. Vincent de Paul Church, when he was ordained assistant pastor there.

Their relationship continued for years, but she lost contact with Kenny until the summer of 1999, when he began working at a parish where she was a secretary, the lawsuit states.

Kenny was suspended and forbidden to function as a priest when White brought her complaint to the archdiocese in 1999, Archbishop Patrick Flores said Friday. Kenny is in San Antonio, recovering from surgery to remove a brain tumor, Flores said.

White's lawyer, J. Douglas Sutter of Houston, said he filed a second lawsuit seeking unspecified damages against the archdiocese this week on behalf of a second woman who claims Kenny had sex with her in front of her two minor children while she was heavily medicated and not fully conscious.

The second lawsuit claims her relationship with Kenny continued from the late 1980s until 1992 and that the priest stalked her through 1994, threatening her and her children if she reported him.

Interviewed last year, White said she'd gone to a church canon law court in 1999 because she wanted the archdiocese to correct the problem quietly.

Kenny's pastor at the time of the affair, Father Thomas Flanagan, is now auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese. Flanagan declined comment Friday.

The canon law court dismissed her complaint last year on technical grounds. Church officials said they tried to steer White to the archdiocese's Crisis Intervention Committee as the proper venue to air her allegations, but Sutter advised her not to cooperate with it.

Flores denied discussing the details of her complaint with other employees "until after she herself publicized them on television and in the newspaper."

Flores also disputed White's claim that the archdiocese did nothing to punish Kenny.

"He was suspended immediately, and he's still suspended," the archbishop said. "All we could do is remove his faculties (as a priest), and we did that immediately."

Sutter said he and White want Kenny defrocked, an action that church officials said can be taken only by the Holy See.


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