Lawsuit Accuses Ex-Local Priest of Repeatedly Abusing Altar Boy

By Philip Elliott
Louisville Courier Press
August 31, 2005

A Vincentian priest who once worked with Evansville's Daughters of Charity faces a civil suit alleging he sexually abused a 10-year-old altar boy while serving in Hong Kong two decades ago.

The Rev. Thomas S. Cawley, of Independence, Mo., cared for elderly and sick Evansville sisters in 2002 and 2003. He now is accused of molesting the youth while assigned to missionary work in 1979.

"Cawley told the plaintiff that the sexual abuse was a form of God's punishment that the young boy needed," according to the court filing.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in St. Louis County Circuit Court, also names the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong and the Congregation of the Mission, Midwest Province, commonly known as the Vincentians.

Because the order is based in St. Louis, the suit was filed there, said Rebecca Randles, an attorney for plaintiff Michael Johnson of Kansas.

Cawley was assigned to a parish in Johnson County, Kan., where Johnson had begun attending services and recognized Cawley, Randles said.

The Vincentians placed Cawley on leave from his duties.

An advocacy group said the incident is another sign of the church's weak system to prevent abuse. "These cases are as much about complicit church officials as abusive Catholic priests," said David Clohessy, national president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. Randles said she could not discuss the damages her client seeks. Johnson says in court documents he was the sole altar boy during weekday Masses. After helping Cawley at St. Anne Church in Hong Kong, the priest would sexually abuse him. The abuse continued for two years until Johnson no longer served Mass, according to the filings.


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