Three Men Sue Retired Priest, Alleging Sexual Abuse

By Kevin Murphy
Kansas City Star
August 26, 2005

Three men have filed lawsuits in Kansas City alleging that a now-retired priest, the Rev. Thomas J. O'Brien, sexually abused them in the 1970s and gave them alcohol and pornography.

Craig Wilkerson of St. Joseph and two anonymous plaintiffs separately sued O'Brien late Wednesday in Jackson County Circuit Court, seeking unspecified damages. The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph was named as co-defendant.

Wilkerson alleges O'Brien sexually molested him starting in 1979 when he was 12 and worked at the rectory of St. Elizabeth Parish in Kansas City.

Plaintiffs identifying themselves as John Doe H.G. and John Doe L.T. said O'Brien molested them on trips to a cottage O'Brien had at Lake Viking, about 70 miles northeast of Kansas City.

O'Brien also is accused of sexual abuse of minors in three lawsuits filed in 2004. Those cases are pending.

O'Brien's attorney, Gerald McGonagle, said Thursday that he had not seen the latest lawsuits but that O'Brien was being falsely accused.

"My client clearly, strenuously and vociferously denies any wrongdoing," McGonagle said.

The diocese had not received the lawsuits Thursday and could not comment on the allegations, Vicar General Robert A. Murphy said.

The diocese previously said that it received a complaint in 1983 accusing O'Brien of sexual misconduct with a minor, that he was sent to psychological treatment programs, and that in 1984 he was assigned as part-time chaplain of St. Joseph Health Center.

In 2002, after five men complained that O'Brien abused them as boys in 1983, he retired from his chaplain's post, and the diocese told him he could not act as a priest.

He has denied all allegations.

The lawsuits Wednesday said the diocese knew as early as 1969 of O'Brien's "propensity for sexually abusing children" but let him continue serving as a priest and working with children.

Wilkerson said at a news conference Thursday that the abuse led him into alcoholism, emotional problems and crime. He said he felt shame and was in therapy, but he decided to make his name public in hopes that others would come forward if O'Brien had abused them.

Wilkerson said at the news conference that he would like O'Brien defrocked.

But mostly, he said, "I wish he would say he's sorry."

Wilkerson's lawsuit said O'Brien began showing him and other boys pornographic movies when he was 12, gave him wine and smoked marijuana with him. It says O'Brien engaged in sex with other boys and another priest in Wilkerson's presence.


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