Sunday, May 26, 2002

Church in dark about probe

By Lew Moores,
and Janice Morse,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MIAMI TOWNSHIP (Montgomery County) — Three days after seven computers were removed by sheriff's deputies from parish offices at St. Henry Catholic Parish, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati still does not know what the investigation is about and the Montgomery County sheriff was saying little.

        The Archdiocese placed the Rev. Thomas A. Kuhn, pastor of St. Henry and a former Elder High School principal, on administrative leave Wednesday because of the investigation.

    Text of the letter from Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk, to be read at all Masses this weekend at St. Henry's Church in Dayton:
   Dear Parishioners of St. Henry,
   You have just been informed that the police have seized your parish's office computers as part of an investigation, and that Father Kuhn has been placed on administrative leave until this matter is resolved. Obviously, no final conclusions have yet been reached about anything. Nonetheless, I wanted to write to you to say that I am aware that your parish had experienced a lot of stress and suffering over the last few months. I am sorry for that. I wish I could guarantee that there will be no further pain and suffering, but I cannot. I want you to know, however, that I am thinking of you and praying for you with the confidence that the Lord is in all this somewhere. I hope that you will pray for me and for our local diocesan Church.
   Sincerely yours in Christ,
   Most Reverend Daniel E. Pilarczyk,
Archbishop of Cincinnati
        “We have no information as to why the computers were taken,” said Tricia Hempel, spokeswoman for the archdiocese.

        “Father Kuhn was placed on leave because, at the very least, we can see that there's been an inappropriate use of the computers. So that's the rationale for putting him on leave. Obviously, when police come and seize your computers, something's up.”

        The Rev. Jeffrey M. Fulmer read a statement from Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk to about 700 parishioners at the church's packed 5 p.m. Mass Saturday.

        He waited until after communion, then read the archbishop's statement, which said computers had been confiscated and Father Kuhn was placed on administrative leave “until this matter is resolved. Obviously, no final conclusions have yet been reached about anything.”

        A few parishioners sighed as Father Fulmer read the statement. But moments later, they gave hearty, sustained applause when Father Fulmer announced he had been named temporary administrator of the parish, where he has been serving as assistant pastor.

        “We at the Church of St. Henry now carry our own heavy cross — and Jesus is suffering right alongside of us,” Father Fulmer told the crowd. “It will be painful, but we will survive if we are united together and support one another.”

        After the service, parishioner Jim Boeckman said he was surprised by the investigation of Father Kuhn, who has been at St. Henry for about a year.

        “His reputation is just absolutely sterling,” Mr. Boeckman said. “This is almost like George Bush falling from grace.”

        Jeanne Unice of Miamisburg said most people knew about the investigation before the statement was read. The story hit the local newspaper on Friday. She would have liked to know more about what was being done on the church computers.

        Montgomery County Sheriff Dave Vore said little about the investigation.

        “The parish cooperated and allowed us to remove the computers. We did get a search warrant to investigate the hard drives of the computers, and that process is still ongoing.”

        The sheriff would not comment on what the computers had to do with Father Kuhn. He said the investigation was prompted by a tip.

        Ms. Hempel said that Father Kuhn had taken a three-month medical leave “for alcohol abuse treatment” while at St. Henry.

        Father Kuhn is the third priest in the archdiocese to be placed on administrative leave or to take one voluntarily. The Rev. Thomas Hopp was placed on leave from Queen of Martyrs parish in Dayton, Ohio, and the Rev. James Kiffmeyer took a leave from a teaching position from Elder High School in April on sexual allegations involving a former student at another school.

        What has happened to both Father Kiffmeyer and Father Kuhn is especially upsetting to Mike Trimpe, who coaches the golf team at Elder and knows both priests.

        Mr. Trimpe of Delhi Township said he had been trying to reach Father Kuhn recently to see if he would serve as chaplain for the golf team because Father Kiffmeyer, the team chaplain, was on leave.

        “I was hoping he would be our chaplain if Father Kiffmeyer couldn't do it,” said Mr. Trimpe, who graduated from Elder in 1976.

        “I was shocked. I don't know what all this is about. These guys are pillars of the community. We love them and they did nothing but great things for Elder. There's a Web site supporting Father Kiffmeyer because he's such a wonderful man. I'm sure with Father Kuhn there's going to be the same reaction at Elder.”

        Don Driehaus, a 1977 Elder graduate who lives in Price Hill, said Father Kuhn taught him physics while he attended Elder.

        “He was always a decent individual,” said Mr. Driehaus. “He was a good teacher. All I can say is he was a genuinely decent individual.”

        Father Kuhn, 61, began teaching at Elder shortly after ordination in 1967. In 1981 he became the school's principal and served as principal until 1988.

        He was a priest at Incarnation Church in Centerville for 12 years before arriving at St. Henry.


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