Archdiocese Sued in Sex Abuse Case

By Bonnie Harris
Indianapolis Star
September 4, 2002

A southern Indiana homemaker who once worked for the church is suing the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. She says church officials knew a priest molested her when she was a teenager but covered up the allegation for more than three decades.

A lawsuit filed Thursday in Floyd Superior Court alleges that the Rev. John B. Schoettelkotte abused June L. Kochert in the 1960s, beginning when she was 15 and continuing for about three years while Schoettelkotte was assistant pastor at St. Mary in New Albany.

Other girls and young women became victims of Schoettelkotte's sexual abuse, the suit says.

"There may be as many as six in total," said Kyle Williams, a New Albany attorney who represents Kochert. One girl was 14, he said.

The Star does not identify victims of sexual abuse without their permission. Through Williams, Kochert has agreed to be identified.

Several attempts to locate Schoettelkotte through his parish and the archdiocese were unsuccessful Tuesday.

The archdiocese put Schoettelkotte on administrative leave in June after the church said it substantiated an allegation that he inappropriately touched a teenage girl more than 30 years ago. Church officials would not say whether Kochert was that woman.

Her lawsuit alleges that:

The priest gained Kochert's trust by speaking to her and other girls after Mass. Sexual talk ensued, then physical contact.

Schoettelkotte first touched Kochert's buttocks, then in other meetings fondled her breasts and genitals, penetrating her with his finger. The priest also asked Kochert to sit on his lap and move around and let him take pictures of her in a bathing suit.

The sexual contact ended when Kochert left New Albany to work toward her goal of entering a convent. She later returned, married and started a family.

The suit also alleges that Kochert complained to church officials but they failed to take action until a national scandal erupted this year over priest misconduct.

Kochert says she first complained to church officials in 1969, when another priest suggested she do so.

Nothing happened.

In 1989 -- after years of therapy -- Kochert learned that Schoettelkotte had been moved to other parishes and schools, so she decided to renew her complaint, which was channeled through her work supervisor, Barbara Williams, director of Catholic Charities in the New Albany area.

Williams, in turn, reported it to her supervisor, and archdiocesan officials eventually met with Kochert. They said they would send Schoettelkotte for counseling and "keep an eye on him," the lawsuit says.

But when Williams learned Schoettelkotte still had assignments that gave him access to young women, she contacted the archdiocese herself, the suit says.

It was then that an archdiocesan official, then-Rev. David Coats, allegedly called Williams and told her not to tell anyone about Kochert's complaint.

Neither Coats, who left the priesthood and later married, nor Williams, who still works for Catholic Charities, would comment about the litigation.

"As an employee of the archdiocese, I've been asked not to speak to the press," Williams said Tuesday.

Kochert complained to the archdiocese again in June this year -- just after the nation's Catholic bishops adopted a new policy on clergy sexual abuse. That month, Schoettelkotte and another local priest, the Rev. Jack Okon, joined 250 priests and three bishops from across the country who have resigned or been removed from their posts pending investigations of sexual abuse allegations.

Both Okon and Schoettelkotte will be investigated by a new six-member lay board appointed by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, which oversees parishes in central and southern Indiana. That board meets for the first time today.

Kochert, 53, turned to the legal system because she didn't believe she would find justice from the church, said attorney Williams.

Because the Catholic Church is "structured like a medieval despotism," lay people must resort to the secular world to find a forum that will adequately address their concerns, Williams said.

"We would like to have him incarcerated, but the criminal statute of limitations has run out," Williams said. He said Kochert wants church officials to admit they should have done something sooner.

She is seeking compensation and punitive damages. No amount has been specified.

The next phase for the lawsuit is mandatory court mediation, set for May 13, in Floyd Superior Court.

Ministry record

The Rev. John B. Schoettelkotte has been a priest in the Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis for 42 years. Here's a record of his ministry.

Born: Nov. 25, 1933

Ordained: May 3, 1960

Assistant pastor: St. Jude, Indianapolis, and high school instructor, 1960

Assistant pastor: St. Mary, Greensburg, 1962

Assistant pastor: St. Mary, New Albany, and high school instructor, 1964

Assistant pastor: St. Paul Catholic Center, Bloomington, 1969

Co-pastor: Our Lady of the Greenwood, Greenwood, 1973

Pastor: St. Bartholomew, Columbus, 1978

Full-time instructor: Marian College, Indianapolis, 1981

Chaplain: Our Lady of Grace Convent, Beech Grove, 1981

Pastor: St. Paul the Apostle, Greencastle, 1983

Chaplain: Newman Center, DePauw University, 1983

Chaplain: Indiana State Penal Farm, Putnamville, 1983

Pastor: St. Augustine, Leopold, and St. Mark, Perry County, 1994

Pastor: St. Mary, North Vernon, 1996

Administrator: St. Anne and St. Joseph, Jennings County, 1996

Pastor: Holy Cross, St. Croix and St. Isidore the Farmer, Perry County, 1999


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