Sunday, June 02, 2002

Lexington bishop named in second sex abuse suit

By Lori Burling
The Associated Press

        LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The Roman Catholic bishop of Lexington was accused in a second lawsuit Friday of sexually abusing a youth when he was a priest decades ago.

        The suit was one of seven filed Friday against the Archdiocese of Louisville, which is now named as a defendant in 104 lawsuits filed in recent weeks. The suits in Jefferson Circuit Court accuse the Louisville archdiocese of covering up complaints of sexual misconduct among more than a dozen of its priests and failing to stop the abuse.

        The suits allege childhood sexual abuse against one bishop, nine living priests, three deceased priests, two former priests, one teacher and one ordained deacon.

        In one of Friday's suits, David Hall alleges he was sexually abused by J. Kendrick Williams, now bishop of Lexington, while Bishop Williams was a priest serving at St. Catherine's High School in New Haven in 1969, according to the lawsuit.

        Bishop Williams, the leader of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lexington, is already on administrative leave while diocese offi cials investigate an accusation made against him in a separate lawsuit filed last week.

        Mr. Hall's suit says while he was a senior at St. Catherine's, Williams sexually abused him on two different occasions during confession.

        In a lawsuit filed in Louisville last week, James W. Bennett, 33, of Louisville, claimed Bishop Williams molested him in 1981 while he was a priest in Louisville.

        In a statement following that accusation, Bishop Williams denied the allegations.

        “Let me state this simply: The allegations are false,” he said last week after Mr. Bennett's accusation. “I do not remember the young man.”

        Officials with the Lexington diocese declined to comment Friday. The Archdiocese of Louisville has refused to comment on the scores of suits against it.

        A message left with Mr. Hall, of New Haven, was not immediately returned. His father, also of New Haven, would not comment Friday.

        Meanwhile, Jefferson Circuit Judge James M. Shake said at a hearing Friday all the lawsuits would likely be consolidated to determine whether they should be sealed, as the Louisville diocese has argued. The diocese cites a 1998 state law calling for allegations of childhood sexual abuse more than five years old to be sealed. Lawyers for the plaintiffs and The Courier-Journal newspaper have claimed the law is unconstitutional.

        Most of the recent accusations are more than 30 years old.

        Judge Shake said the court will have to make a ruling on the constitutionality of the state law before any other steps are taken regarding the suits.

        “It seems to me that we need to promptly decide if that statute is constitutional,” said Edward Stopher, attorney for the archdiocese.

        Judge Shake said he would not issue a written ruling until early next week.

        The six other lawsuits filed Friday in Louisville allege sexual abuse by priests who have been named in other pending suits. Those include the Rev. Robert A. Bowling, the Rev. Robert Dollinger, the Rev. James Hargadon and the Rev. Louis E. Miller, who has been named in nearly half the suits pending against the Louisville archdiocese.


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