Priest Dropped from Suit Says Mass
Parishioners Applaud Magel; Archdiocese Authorized Return

By Peter Smith
Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY)
March 24, 2003

Greeted with a standing ovation by parishioners, a retired Catholic priest celebrated his first public Mass in nine months yesterday morning after Louisville Archbishop Thomas Kelly concluded there is no evidence that the priest had sexually abused children.

"I'm certainly glad to be with you," the priest, the Rev. John Magel, told worshippers at Mother of Good Counsel Church yesterday, where he has worked part time for several years since retiring from fulltime ministry. "I hope things will continue to work out for all the people who were affected in many ways."

After the service - which Magel described as one of the most meaningful Masses of his 43 years in the priesthood - parishioners crowded around him at the door to welcome him back with handshakes and embraces.

"He is someone who has really supported our parish and our community over the years," said Susan Wheatley, parish associate at Mother of Good Counsel. "So it's a good day, having him back with us."

Kelly had asked Magel to refrain from public ministry since June, when he was accused in one lawsuit of exposing himself. Kelly restored him to ministry last week after concluding that the allegation did not involve child abuse and after the revised lawsuit did not mention Magel by name.

The lawsuit, filed last year by Ronald Kuhl, is one of more than 200 brought against the Archdiocese of Louisville since April 2002, alleging abuse by priests, teachers and others associated with the church.

Kuhl alleged in his lawsuit that Magel had prepared a meal while he was unclothed during a camping trip around 1970 in the presence of Kuhl and other boys. Magel was a priest at Our Mother of Sorrows Church at the time.

In his lawsuit, Kuhl also was the first of three plaintiffs to accuse a former Louisville parochial-school teacher, Gary Kazmarek, of sexual abuse. Kazmarek also faces criminal charges for allegedly abusing Kuhl and another boy. He was convicted of a similar charge in Wisconsin.

Kuhl's attorney, J. Andrew White, amended the lawsuit earlier this year, adding Kazmarek as a defendant. Before that, the only defendant was the archdiocese. The lawsuit now says Kazmarek "was the actor with respect to all conduct alleged in the original complaint."

Brian Reynolds, chancellor and chief administrative officer of the archdiocese, said church lawyers concluded from that wording that Magel was being dropped from the lawsuit.

Reynolds added that even in the original allegation of exposure, Magel "was not accused of child abuse" and that the church's own investigation has concluded that there are no other allegations against him.

WHITE SAID the main reason

for amending the lawsuit was to add Kazmarek as a defendant. He contended that the original allegation concerning Magel still stands, but he acknowledged that that claim does not involve physical abuse.

"Magel has never been the chief player in the case," White said, saying the allegations against Kazmarek are far more extensive. White said he had added Magel's name to the original lawsuit as an "afterthought" because he considered it "indicative of the kind of behavior that was being tolerated by the archdiocese."

Kuhl echoed White's comments, saying he considered Magel's conduct on the camping trip "inappropriate" and he was disappointed to hear of Kelly's decision to reinstate the priest. Kuhl said he thinks the archdiocese has handled the abuse issue insensitively.

Reynolds said despite the lawyers' differing interpretations of the amended lawsuit, the church considers Magel's case resolved.

"I'm glad that a man who is providing good service can continue to serve," he said.

Yesterday Magel said he could not comment on the specifics of the lawsuit.

IN HIS SERMON yesterday, the Rev. John Judie, pastor of Mother of Good Counsel, described Magel's restoration as a "sign of God's faithfulness and love."

"In spite of the terrible accusation brought against him, in spite of the public embarrassment of his name and picture in the news media several times, in spite of what anyone may have thought then or what they might think now, . . . this priest has remained faithful to God in patiently awaiting the result of this most unfortunate situation," Judie said.

"God has made a way for him to be able to return to the ministry to which God had called him years ago."

Parishioners applauded and said, "Amen." Later, some of them voiced sentiments similar to Judie's.

"We're very, very glad to have Father John back," Wes Harris said. "We appreciate his giving in his retirement."

Magel is the second priest in the archdiocese to be restored to service after being named in a lawsuit.

Last year, Kelly restored the Rev. Robert Gray to service after police investigated, saying that they could not substantiate the claim and that the sole accuser had not cooperated with the investigation. Gray also is retired, but he does some parish ministry.

Kelly has barred eight other priests from ministry because of accusations of sexual abuse.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.