19 Seek to Join Lawsuit against 2 Kentucky Dioceses

By Peter Smith
Louisville Courier-Journal
April 23, 2003

Nineteen plaintiffs are seeking to join a lawsuit against the Roman Catholic dioceses of Lexington and Covington, raising to seven the number of priests accused of past sexual abuse in the case.

The amended lawsuit, filed Monday in Fayette Circuit Court by Lexington attorney Robert Treadway, added 19 plaintiffs, bringing the total number of people suing the two dioceses to 24. Treadway is seeking class-action status in the cases.

Seventeen of the new plaintiffs, all female, are accusing the Rev. Leonard Nienaber of sexually abusing them as children in the 1960s and 1970s while he worked at Mary Queen of the Holy Rosary Church in Lexington. One of the original five plaintiffs, a male, had also accused Nienaber.

The two other new plaintiffs are each accusing a different priest.

The Rev. Gerald Reinersman, chancellor of the Covington Diocese, said in a statement that the church is "deeply saddened that individuals suffered abuse at the hands of some of our priests." He encouraged victims to bring complaints directly to church officials but said in cases of lawsuits, "we must let the court process work."

Lexington Diocese spokesman Thomas Shaughnessy said he couldn't comment on the amended lawsuit because diocesan officials had not seen it. He noted that amendments require a judge's approval.

The lawsuit involves the overlapping jurisdictions of the Diocese of Covington and the Diocese of Lexington, which was created in 1988.

Most of the cases involve accusations of abuse that allegedly took place in the Lexington area before 1988, though two of the allegations name priests who served in areas that remained part of the Diocese of Covington after 1988. Nienaber was convicted in 1993 in Fayette Circuit Court on 10 charges that he abused children while at Mary Queen of the Holy Rosary Church. Then 87, he was allowed to serve his 10-year sentence at a Missouri treatment center. Shaughnessy said he believes he still lives there.

Another new plaintiff accuses the Rev. Joseph Pilger, who pleaded guilty in 1995 to sexually abusing three brothers in the 1960s while serving in the Diocese of Owensboro. The plaintiff, Daniel Willett, alleges Pilger molested him in 1962 while Pilger worked at St. Paul Church in Lexington.

Shaughnesssy said Pilger is retired and has no public ministry.

The other new plaintiff, J.R. Bailey, alleges he was molested by the Rev. John Modica in Lexington around 1977. Shaughnessy said Modica served a Lexington parish in the 1970s but has never been a part of the Lexington Diocese since its founding.

Treadway originally filed the lawsuit last year on behalf of five plaintiffs, each accusing a different priest. In addition to Nienaber, those priests included the Rev. Earl Bierman, who was imprisoned after pleading guilty in 1993 to molesting six boys at Covington Latin School; the Rev. Edward Francis Murray; the Rev. Ed Fritsch; and a priest whose name the plaintiff does not remember.

Covington spokesman Tim Fitzgerald said a Rev. Edward F. Murray died in 1996. Neither diocese had information on Fritsch.


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