Jury Clears Priest, Principal
Parents of Boy Say They Will Appeal Sex-Abuse Case

By Andrew Fegelman
Chicago Tribune
June 30, 1994

For one day Wednesday, the clouds of controversy surrounding allegations of sexual abuse by Catholic priests cleared as a jury vindicated Rev. Robert Lutz of charges he beat and then sexually abused a 7-year-old boy at a Northbrook parish school.

While the civil trial was long, the decision came quickly, an indication that the jury had little doubt that the allegations lodged by the boy were false.

The parents of the boy, now 13, had asked for $7 million in damages in the civil lawsuit filed in 1989 against Lutz and Alice Halpin, a former principal at St. Norbert's school.

But after deliberating for less than two hours, the jury determined there was no merit to the charges lodged against either.

"This shows that not every allegation should be taken as true," said Lutz, who for the first time cracked a smile after having sat stone-faced during nearly four weeks of trial.

"I was tried and convicted in the media before we had a chance to tell our story," he said.

Halpin, 49, who has left St. Norbert's school and is now teaching math at a Catholic school in Chicago, didn't want to talk about the trial except to say "I'm just glad the truth came out."

For the Archdiocese of Chicago, the outcome Wednesday in Cook County Circuit Court was certainly a vindication. Troubled by a series of allegations against its priests-including a sex abuse case that resulted earlier this month in a 20-year prison sentence-it had staked much on clearing the names of Lutz and Halpin.

The legal fees of both had been paid by the Archdiocese. It also immediately issued a statement Wednesday expressing elation at the outcome, but also acknowledging the existence of "true victims" of sexual abuse. Those individuals, the Archdiocese said, shouldn't be discouraged by the outcome of the case from reporting the incidents or seeking help.

"The Archdiocese has removed about 20 or 21 priests where there was a concern that they acted inappropriately, but it claimed the innocence of Father Lutz," said John O'Malley, chief attorney for the Archdiocese.

"The evidence demonstrated clearly and convincingly that defense of these charges was the only appropriate course," he said. "And it is imperative that the truth be known. Under the circumstances, the only way to achieve that was a trial."

Lost amid the emotion that filled the courtroom after the verdict was announced is the fact that Lutz still faces a second civil suit arising from another allegation of sexual abuse that was filed in 1992. O'Malley said the 69-year-old Lutz is no more guilty of those charges than the ones he was cleared of Wednesday.

Still, the mother of the boy, who claims he was sexually abused by Lutz while a 1st grader at St. Norbert's said she planned to pursue her case.

"We want Lutz to know he has to face another trial," she said. "This case doesn't affect ours."

Also still pending is a countersuit Lutz and Halpin brought that accuses the parents of the 7-year-old of slandering their name by passing out leaflets and copies of letters containing their allegations against the two.

The parents, both attorneys, weren't present in the courtroom when the jury announced its verdict. But both became targets Wednesday as attorneys for Lutz and Halpin delivered their closing arguments to the jury.

Arlene Erlebacher, who represented Lutz, and Patricia Bobb, representing Halpin, both indicated that the civil lawsuit was nothing more than a vendetta waged by the parents who didn't like the way St. Norbert's or Lutz or Halpin had treated their son.

According to testimony during the trial in Cook County Circuit Court, the allegations first arose in July 1988, when the boy claimed Halpin had called him into her office, swore at him and said she would "melt your brain."

Three months later, he told his parents Lutz had punched him and a classmate. The classmate, who was called as a defense witness, denied the incident ever occurred.

Then in January 1989, the boy told his father that Lutz had sexually abused him. He also said Lutz and Halpin once stripped naked and rolled on the floor in front of him.

During the trial, Thomas Decker, attorney for the parents, called the boy, his parents and a psychologist who treated the boy to the witness stand. The psychologist, Anne Brown, claimed the boy suffered from post traumatic stress disorder as a result of the abuse.

But attorneys for Lutz and Halpin said the allegations were nothing more than products of the boy's imagination. Erlebacher even played videotapes of the "Nightmare on Elm Street" movie and its sequels to prove their contention that the boy was incorporating portions of the movies into his allegations.


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