Boys Town, Lincoln Diocese Will Look into Abuse Claims

By Karyn Spencer, David Hendee
Omaha World Herald [Nebraska]
February 1, 2003

Two men allege in lawsuits filed this week that they were victims of child sexual abuse by Nebraska priests - one at Boys Town in Omaha, the other at a Catholic school in York.

The men allege that they were abused as boys in the 1970s but that they repressed the memories until a year ago.

In one of two lawsuits, a man says he was abused by a priest and a counselor at Boys Town. In the second lawsuit, the other man says he was abused by a priest who supervised St. Joseph Catholic Church and Grade School in York.

The priests and the counselor used their jobs to "develop unhealthy, psychologically dependent relationships by male students ... and to recruit them for sex," both lawsuits allege.

The priest named in the Boys Town lawsuit, the Rev. James E. Kelly, denied the accusations. The counselor, Michael Wolf, could not be reached for comment.

The priest in the York lawsuit, Monsignor Jerome C. Murray, could not be reached. A nun who answered the door at his apartment building in Lincoln said Murray would not be home Friday night.

The lawsuits were filed in U.S. District Court in Omaha and Lincoln.

Named as defendants in one were Father Flanagan's Boys Home, or Girls and Boys Town, and the Omaha Archdiocese. Named in the other lawsuit were the Lincoln Diocese, St. Joseph and Murray.

The plaintiffs' lawyer said Kelly and Wolf were not named as defendants in the Boys Town lawsuit because he could not find them. Both men are identified in the text of the lawsuit.

Representatives of the Lincoln Diocese, Boys Town and St. Joseph said they will investigate the complaints.

"We will do everything we can to find out the truth," said the Rev. Val Peter, executive director of Girls and Boys Town and a relative of one of the plaintiffs.

Both plaintiffs live in Arizona but do not know each other, their lawyer said Friday. He said the men did not want to comment.

The first man says in his lawsuit that he lived in a cottage at Boys Town from 1977 to 1979.

He alleges that he was physically and sexually molested there starting in 1978, and that the abuse was done separately by Kelly, then spiritual affairs director, and Wolf, a live-in employee at the cottage.

Kelly said Friday that he had never molested anyone.

"Without hesitation I can tell you that," said Kelly, now a chaplain with the Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City. "Absolutely not."

Kelly said he wouldn't be surprised if someone was suing Boys Town because it has a lot of money. In addition, he said, "I would hate to think he's pulling the deep pockets thing on the archdiocese."

Kelly and Wolf both left Boys Town in 1983.

Peter said the man who filed the allegations against Boys Town is his second cousin.

Peter said the man has a checkered past and didn't show traits common to boys who have been victimized by sexual assault.

"That doesn't prove that it didn't happen, but it makes me wonder," Peter said.

Peter declined to answer questions about Kelly and Wolf. Asked whether he had reviewed their personnel files, Peter said: "It'll all come out."

Monsignor Robert Hupp was executive director of Boys Town when Kelly arrived from New York state to be director of spiritual affairs.

"He was interested in kids," Hupp, who led Boys Town for 12 years before retiring in 1985, said of Kelly. "He was a rather strict guy. He was a disciplinarian. He wasn't an easy-going guy."

Hupp, now 87 and a resident of Wisconsin, said he still occasionally hears from Kelly.

The second plaintiff alleges in his lawsuit that he was molested by the then-Rev. Murray at St. Joseph School in 1973 and 1974. The man alleges that the abuse occurred in Murray's office. The man was in the fifth, sixth and seventh grades.

Murray worked at the school from 1968 to 1974, serving as a teacher, school administrator, and religious and school counselor.

The claims of both men have been substantiated by others, said their lawyer, William G. Walker of Tucson, Ariz.

The Lincoln Diocese is investigating the complaint and "will respond according to the civil and canonical laws applicable in this situation," said the Rev. Mark Huber, spokesman for Lincoln Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz.

The Rev. Michael Gutgsell, chancellor of the Omaha Archdiocese, said he was surprised that the Boys Town lawsuit named the archdiocese as a defendant because there is no corporate link between the two. Also, Kelly never was a priest of the archdiocese, Gutgsell said.

The plaintiffs' attorney said both didn't remember the assaults until February 2002, when Walker was handling similar cases in Tucson.

Walker has represented 10 victims who have sued four priests and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson over sexual abuse. The case was settled last year for at least $ 15 million, according to news reports.

The men in the two lawsuits filed this week each have asked for more than $ 50,000 in damages for assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent hiring and supervision and breach of confidence.

Walker said he believes that the church owes the men an apology, counseling and damages for the physical and emotional trauma. He said he hopes to avoid a trial.

"The result of any forced sexual trauma stays with you your whole life," Walker said. "This is something that's just been made real to them."


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