Lawsuit Alleges Abuse by Priest at Dowling in 1967-68

By Shirley Ragsdale
Des Moines Register
April 28, 2005

A Des Moines man has sued the Diocese of Des Moines and the Rev. Leonard Kenkel, alleging that he was sexually abused by the priest when he was a student at Dowling Catholic High School.

John S. Chambers, who has been a member of St. Augustin's Parish, alleges that during the 1967-68 school year, Kenkel kneaded and fondled his buttocks during sophomore biology class.

Chambers also alleges that the priest exposed himself while talking about "receiving the body of Christ."

Kenkel now serves St. Edward's Parish in Afton and Holy Spirit Parish in Creston, according to the Des Moines Diocese's Web site.

Anne Marie Cox, communications director of the diocese, acknowledged the lawsuit in a statement that said the diocese's Allegation Review Committee had reviewed Chambers' complaint, but did not find sufficient evidence to confirm abuse.

"The diocese will vigorously defend any claim that has been determined to lack any basis in fact," said Cox's statement.

The review committee did not recommend that Bishop Joseph Charron remove Kenkel from the ministry. However, the committee did recommend that "Kenkel meet with a professional to help him better understand personal space and recognition of appropriate boundaries for physical contact, which he has done," the diocese statement said.

Kenkel's attorney, Kenneth Munro, declined to comment on the lawsuit and allegations.

Mary McGee, Chambers' attorney, said the diocese has not released the results of its investigation to her client.

"The so-called investigation was not what it should have been," McGee said.

Chambers first met with Monsignor Stephen Orr and Charron three years ago, and they expressed concern, McGee said. As a result of that conversation, Chambers filed a formal complaint alleging sexual abuse. Chambers and his attorney met with the review committee in 2004, and he gave a statement and answered several questions, McGee said.

McGee said that because of the abuse and the manner in which Chambers was treated by the diocese, he has "lost all respect and faith in the Catholic Church and trust in its agents."


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