Judge Limits Discussion on Lawsuit against Ex-Dowling priest
Both sides are restricted from public comments, just days after the plaintiff gave television interviews

By Shirley Ragsdale
Des Moines Register
May 5, 2005

A judge has limited public disclosures on a Des Moines man's molestation lawsuit against a former Dowling Catholic High School priest - just days after the man gave three television interviews about his allegations.

Polk County District Judge Scott Rosenberg, ruling on a request from the Des Moines Catholic Diocese, prohibited parties in the lawsuit from publicly discussing personnel records, insurance and financial information, and medical records of plaintiff John S. Chambers or the defendant, the Rev. Leonard A. Kenkel.

Rosenberg also ordered the attorneys involved to refrain from commenting on the case and its merits and urged the parties to exercise "the utmost civility and decorum in these proceedings and when dealing with each other."

Chambers filed a lawsuit on March 28 that accused Kenkel, who now is a parish priest in Creston and Afton, of fondling him in the classroom while he was a student at Dowling in the late 1960s.

Diocese officials, objecting to Chambers' television interviews, said his remarks were embarrassing and damaged the ability of the diocese and the priest to defend the case.

Church officials have said the diocese's allegations review board investigated Chambers' allegations, but did not agree that sexual abuse occurred. They said Kenkel was counseled about maintaining appropriate personal boundaries.

Disclosure of the allegations has rocked the Creston and Afton Catholic communities, where Des Moines Bishop Joseph Charron met with about 400 Catholics in Holy Spirit Parish after news of the lawsuit broke. The meeting was closed to the media.

"The man described in the lawsuit is not the Father Kenkel we know," said John Walsh, principal of St. Malachy School in Creston. "Father Kenkel is a man who has been dedicated to his priestly life, who is loved and respected throughout the community."

"When Bishop Charron announced that Father Kenkel would remain as our pastor, it generated the loudest applause of the evening," said Patrick Schlapia, lector at Holy Spirit Parish.

Victims' advocates reacted negatively to the judge's ruling, maintaining that the Des Moines diocese's "effort to silence a sex abuse victim is shameful."

"The agenda is clear: to keep clergy sex crimes and church cover-ups secret," said David Clohessy of St. Louis, executive director of Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests.

"It's more business as usual by church officials, putting the reputation of one accused priest over the safety of dozens of children," Clohessy said. "This judge is bucking a long, nationwide trend toward greater openness in sex abuse cases."


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