Former Resident Files Claim against Priest

Montgomery Advertiser
August 12, 2003

A Roman Catholic priest accused of molesting a woman when she was an Air Force cadet in the 1980s is now accused of sexually abusing a teenager in Prattville in the 1970s.

The Mobile Register reported Monday that the Rev. Patrick L. Nicholson allegedly sexually abused a 15-year-old girl after befriending her Roman Catholic family some 26 years ago when her father was assigned to the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery.

Nicholson, who was discharged from his position as Air Force chaplain in 2000 after the first accusation, is on leave from the church and not allowed to function as a priest. His last known address was in Southern California, the newspaper reported.

Kathleen Karlsen, now 41 and living in Bozeman, Mont., told the Register that Nicholson repeatedly tried to molest her when she was 15 and on a return visit to Prattville after her family moved.

Karlsen, who approached the Register with the allegations and agreed to have her name used in the story, said she thought she was Nicholson's only victim until she recently saw articles about another woman's accusations.

The Rev. Philip McKenna, current priest at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Prattville, said he has met Nicholson before but did not know him well.

He said the Prattville congregation, at the time of Nicholson's leadership, was most likely "a fairly small congregation" during the late 1970s. The church now has some 480 Catholic families.

"Most people that I've heard from say he was very popular when he was here, and it took them by surprise," said McKenna, who has led St. Joseph Catholic Church since 1999. "This is something that we are very, very concerned about."

Since the news about Nicholson made headlines, McKenna said he has not received any reports from any of his parishioners regarding any suspected past abuse by Nicholson.

"It's disturbing because we depend an awful lot on the trust of people," McKenna said. "When we find that there are accusations that trust has been violated, it does hurt."

Susan Archibald, who heads a group based in Louisville, Ky., that assists victims of clerical abuse, has accused Nicholson of sexually abusing her when she sought counseling from him during her freshman and sophomore years at the Air Force Academy in 1983 and 1984. She reported her claims to the Air Force in 1999.

Karlsen has brought her allegations to a Mobile lawyer and District Attorney John Tyson Jr. She said both have told her that civil or criminal judgments are unlikely because of the age of her claims.

Karlsen also has sent letters to local church officials, including Archbishop Oscar H. Lipscomb of Mobile, where Nicholson once served. The Very Rev. Michael L. Farmer, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Mobile, said he didn't know of Karlsen's statements, but the church will investigate.

Nicholson's lawyer, Los Angeles-based Wild Chang, told the Register his client remembered one incident of physical contact with Karlsen, but said he never intended anything inappropriate.

When Chang was asked earlier this year if Nicholson had improper sexual relationships with anyone besides Archibald, Chang responded: "The words I was told he's comfortable with are 'not to his recollection' ...."

In Prattville, Nicholson was assigned to St. Joseph's church from 1976 through 1978, according to the Official Catholic Directory. He also served in Mobile at Little Flower in 1970 and St. Pius X from 1971 through 1975.

Karlsen said the incidents with Nicholson have resulted in her breaking from the church, avoiding relationships with men and undergoing therapy.

"It was just hell," she said. "He was just relentless. And he knew I was distraught. I would sob in front of him. As soon as I would stop, he would be after me again. He would try to kiss me, try to fondle me."


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