4 Allege Priest Abused Them in '78 Lincoln Diocese Faces a $ 2 Million Suit over the Actions of a Dismissed Priest

By Stephen Buttry
Omaha World Herald
March 29, 2002

Four men are seeking $ 2 million from the Catholic Diocese of Lincoln for alleged sexual abuse by a priest in 1978, the diocese said Thursday.

A press release from the diocese said Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, who dismissed Robert Hrdlicka from the ministry in 1993, "is not going to respond favorably to unreasonable demands to settle claims out of fear of adverse publicity."

Hrdlicka, who was assistant pastor at the Cathedral of the Risen Christ, left Lincoln in 1986 to be a Navy chaplain.

He was court-martialed in Beaufort, S.C., in 1993 on six counts of indecent acts with a minor under 16 and one count of indecent liberties with a minor under 16, according to news reports from July 1993. The reports said he admitted molesting the boys and was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Thursday's press release said the Lincoln Diocese, after learning of the Lincoln allegations in 1993, made "an offer of assistance" to the four men now seeking payments.

"The present sexual misconduct scandal that has engulfed other Catholic dioceses in the United States has created an environment where now, nine years later and some 24 years after the acts allegedly took place, a payment of $ 2 million is demanded of the diocese in exchange for the silence of the men," the press release said.

Bruskewitz said that when he became bishop in 1992, the diocese had no record of complaints against Hrdlicka. After he was charged in the Navy, the press release said, Bruskewitz investigated the priest's conduct and learned of the allegations by the four men, who were adults by then.

The press release said Hrdlicka denied the allegations in 1978.

The press release does not specify what assistance the diocese offered in 1993 but says "the current spokesman for the men did not respond." The statute of limitations has expired, the diocese said.

The announcement said the diocese was "always ready to assist with counseling and any other help for the innocent victims of such reprehensible behavior."

The press release did not identify the four men or a spokesman or an attorney for them. It referred questions to the diocesan attorney, Rocky Weber, who was out of town Thursday and did not return a call. Weber told the Lincoln Journal Star that the four men were brothers and said they were molested as children.

The Chancery office was closed for Good Friday, and officials did not respond to a voice mail message.

Bruskewitz could find no indication "that at the time of the alleged incidents, the diocese had any knowledge about the matter or could have taken any steps to prevent these alleged acts from occurring," the press release said.

After the chaplain's conviction, Bruskewitz "immediately suspended all of Hrdlicka's faculties to act as a priest or in any way represent the church," the diocese press release said.

Bruskewitz adopted a policy in 1992 requiring diocese employees to report suspicions of child abuse to authorities, as required by Nebraska law.

Lt. Cmdr. Pauline Storum, a Navy spokeswoman, said Hrdlicka was discharged from the Navy and released from prison Feb. 17, 1999. She had no information on his current whereabouts.

Several people around the country with the same name, including a man in Crete, Neb., said they did not know Hrdlicka and did not know how to reach him.


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