Four Priests Named for First Time in Latest Suits

Associated Press State & Local Wire
April 21, 2003

A parish pastor was among four priests accused for the first time Monday of sexually abusing children decades ago in new lawsuits against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville.

Five lawsuits filed in Jefferson County Circuit Court accused five separate priests. Nearly 250 suits have been brought against the archdiocese, which is accused of concealing the alleged abuse.

The Rev. Donald Ryan, pastor at St. Denis parish, was accused for the first time along with a priest who retired in March, another who left the priesthood years ago and another priest who died in 1989.

The other lawsuit accused the Rev. Arthur L. Wood, who died in 1983 at age 59. Wood has been mentioned in dozens of previous lawsuits.

The priests were not named as defendants in the suits.

Ryan, who was ordained in 1963, was accused of sexually molesting an altar boy in the mid- to late 1960s. Ryan's accuser, Richard D. Lanham, now 47, claimed that the abuse included sodomy and occurred in the church rectory while he helped Ryan with odd jobs at Holy Cross Church.

Ryan will take a leave of absence from St. Denis pending the outcome of the investigation, which is customary, said Cecelia Price, an archdiocese spokeswoman. Letters were being sent to inform St. Denis' approximately 1,100 parishioners, she said.

Ryan has denied the accusation, and the archdiocese has never received any reports of abuse by Ryan, pastor at St. Denis since 2001, Price said.

Other than that, the archdiocese declined comment on the latest suits.

The Rev. Leon C. Spalding was accused in a suit filed by Rose Benkert Heeg. Heeg, now 46, claimed that Spalding sexually molested her in the entryway of Holy Name Church after confession in the early 1970s.

Spalding retired in March as pastor at St. Dominic in Springfield, Price said. She said she does not know where Spalding is living.

In another suit, the Rev. William Patrick Caster was accused of sexually abusing Judy Shore, now 57, in 1955 or 1956 while she attended Holy Family Church and School. Caster resigned as a pastor in 1988 because of poor health and died the following year, Price said.

In her suit, Theresa Harp, now 48, accused Charles F. Dearing of sexually assaulting her between 1966 and 1968. Dearing worked at St. Frances of Rome Church and School in the 1950s and 1960s, the suit said.

Dearing left the priesthood in 1970, Price said.

Wood was accused in a suit filed by Jeffrey Breunig, who attended St. Elizabeth of Hungary School and an adjoining church under Wood's direction. Breunig, now 50, claimed he was sexually molested by Wood between 1961 and 1963.

The suits claim that the archdiocese was aware of the priests' alleged abuse but failed to notify law enforcement authorities, discipline the priests or warn the plaintiffs' parents.

The defendants all seek compensatory and punitive damages.

Their lawyer, William McMurry, has filed most of the lawsuits against the archdiocese.


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