Diocese Faces Sex Abuse Lawsuits
Two Plaintiffs Accuse Ex-Priest
By Kevin Murphy
Kansas City Star
September 5, 2003
Two lawsuits filed Thursday accuse a former Kansas City area priest of sexually abusing minors, and allege that the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph failed to respond appropriately. In one of the lawsuits filed in Jackson County Circuit Court, plaintiff Kenneth Landes says the ex-priest, Hugh Monahan, abused him between 1982 and 1987 when he was assigned to St. Robert Bellarmine Church in Blue Springs.
In the other lawsuit, an anonymous Kansas City man said Monahan's abuses occurred between 1975 and 1979 when Monahan served at three churches. The lawsuit says the diocese breached a 1999 agreement to give the plaintiff counseling.
Named as defendants besides Monahan are the diocese, Bishop Raymond J. Boland and Vicar General Patrick Rush, a priest assigned to help investigate abuse allegations. Both lawsuits seek monetary damages.
Monahan, who the diocese said left Kansas City and the priesthood in June 1989, could not be located for comment. He moved to Florida around 1990 and lived in Puerto Rico as recently as June, records indicate.
In a statement Thursday, Rush said the diocese was not aware of any alleged abuse by Monahan, now 61, until after he left Kansas City in 1989. Landes' lawyer, Rebecca Randles, said she would show otherwise.
The diocese released a letter that Landes' parents wrote on Nov. 20, 1990, to then-Bishop John J. Sullivan, recounting a sexual relationship between Monahan and their son when he was a teenager. Sullivan wrote back, promised an investigation and sent the couple a $1,000 check from his charity fund because the family was facing financial hardship.
More allegations against Monahan surfaced in 1999 and 2002, but efforts to reach Monahan never succeeded, Rush said. "No diocesan representative was ever able to question him about the allegations," he said.
Landes, now 36 and living in San Diego, said Monahan initiated sexual contact with him when he was 15 and working at the church rectory and running errands.
"He manipulated the situation to prevent me from telling anyone," Landes said.
Landes said he could not face what happened to him for many years and turned to alcohol and drugs. Landes, who is gay, said he became HIV-positive in 1999 and has since been in psychological therapy. "I want to move on," Landes said. "I want justice for what happened to me. I want the church, the diocese in particular, to stop denying they have a problem with this in the Kansas City area." Rush said the diocese was assertive about sexual-abuse cases. In 1993, Bishop Boland declared a "zero tolerance" policy in which any abusive priest would be suspended and eventually removed. In February, the diocese reported that there had been allegations of sexual abuse against 19 priests, resulting in $836,331 in settlements, legal fees and costs of counseling of victims and priests. That included the Monahan case, Rush said. The abuses of minors allegedly occurred between 1951 and 1992. No incidents have occurred since 1992, Rush said. However, there have been complaints about priests' conduct and one other lawsuit, but all have been related to events before 1992. The diocese set up an independent review board to hear complaints and it makes counseling available to victims. "In recent years, no one has escaped the realization that sexual abuse by priests has caused much pain," Rush said. But the anonymous plaintiff in the second lawsuit Thursday said the diocese had reneged on its promise to get him unlimited visits with a qualified counselor. He said the diocese-provided counselor had little knowledge of sexual-abuse issues.
The man said he found a more experienced counselor but the diocese refused to pay for the services and would not return his calls. The lawsuit said the diocese "made fraudulent misrepresentations" to the plaintiff.
In his statement, Rush did not address the allegations of the anonymous plaintiff. Diocese spokeswoman Rebecca Summers said the diocese had not received the lawsuit and could not yet comment. The plaintiff said he was 11 when Monahan began touching him inappropriately. He said the contact eventually included sodomy and rape.
He said the abuse led him to depression and serious emotional problems as an adult.
During the years 1975 to 1979, when the alleged abuse occurred, Monahan served at Sacred Heart in Warrensburg, Mo., St. Patrick in Holden and St. Stephens in Kansas City, according diocese records. The lawsuit does not say where the abuse happened. The plaintiff said in a written statement Thursday that he hoped the lawsuit would force the church to "offer more than hollow promises to those who have been abused by their priests." Neither of the civil lawsuits specifies a total amount of damages being sought, but the amounts would exceed the $25,000 threshold required for the cases to be filed in circuit court, Randles said. "It's really not about money; it's about letting people in Kansas City know there is a problem," Randles said. Money would pay for counseling, legal fees and other costs the plaintiffs incurred, she said.
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