Sunday, August 25, 2002

Covington diocese, priests accused in suit

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LOUISVILLE - Northern Kentucky's notorious former priest Earl Bierman and another priest who reported to the Diocese of Covington have been accused again - in sealed court documents that are part of a $50 million class-action lawsuit against the diocese.

        The Courier-Journal in Louisville published a report on the documents' contents Saturday.

        The documents - part of a lawsuit filed in Fayette County against the Lexington diocese and the Diocese of Covington - have been the object of months of court disputes in Kentucky.

Click here for all Enquirer reports on accusations or actions against local priests.
        Local and appellate courts have ruled they should be unsealed, but the Lexington diocese has appealed to the state Supreme Court to keep the documents sealed. The Courier-Journal, a Gannett sister paper to the Enquirer, obtained a copy of the suit with the sealed documents.

        The suit names four priests - one serving a 20-year sentence for sexual abuse, two currently at a Missouri treatment facility for priests and one who was cited by police for indecent exposure.

        It addresses failings on the part of Lexington clergy in two of the cases and alleges that Diocese of Covington officials knew of but failed to stop two other priests - the former Rev. Bierman and Monsignor Leonard Nienaber - from molesting children. The lawsuit claims that Mr. Bierman went on to molest one of the plaintiffs. Both priests eventually were convicted of child sexual abuse.

        Mr. Bierman pleaded guilty in 1993 to molesting six boys in the 1960s and 1970s and is serving a 20-year prison sentence. Monsignor Nienaber, 93, pleaded guilty in 1994 to 10 counts of sexual abuse of a minor and was placed in a Missouri treatment program where he remains, according to the lawsuit.

        Monsignor Nienaber was originally charged with sexually abusing 24 children ages 4 to 16 between 1964 and 1978 at Mary Queen of the Holy Rosary Church in Lexington, where he retired in 1979. Police alleged that some incidents occurred while the children were in confession or were reading Scripture.

        The sealed portion of the lawsuit alleges that the Covington Diocese knew Mr. Bierman was a “habitual pedophile” as early as the 1960s and sent him to treatment for four years.

        The diocese then returned Mr. Bierman to pastoral duty in Maysville, where he molested William Lalley, now of Lexington, the lawsuit says.

        It also alleges the Covington Diocese received reports of Monsignor Nienaber's misconduct but failed to remove him from his duties at Lexington's Mary Queen of the Holy Rosary parish and school.

        Diocese spokesman Tim Fitzgerald said, “The people involved here have decided to use the courts and the legal system is going to take its course and we are going to abide by that.”

        Lexington attorney Robert Treadway filed the lawsuit on behalf of Samuel Lee Edwards Graywolf of Nicholasville; James Mahan of Los Angeles; and Mr. Lalley, Edwin Gonzalez and Kay Montgomery, all of Lexington. The five, who all allege sexual abuse by priests in the Lexington or Covington dioceses, declined to comment.

        Lexington was part of the Covington Diocese until 1988; the lawsuit names both dioceses as defendants.

        In the portion of the suit addressing Lexington Diocese priests, the Lexington Diocese and its former bishop, Rev. J. Kendrick Williams, are accused of helping cover up one of its most popular priest's affairs with women.

        Rev. Greg Shuler, a priest who abruptly resigned in March from Lexington's Cathedral of Christ the King, citing job burnout, was in fact removed because he was having an affair with a married woman in his parish, according to a lawsuit against the Lexington Diocese.

        Father Shuler also fathered a child from a previous relationship while he was working as a priest and the diocese either paid or arranged for child-support payments “to avoid scandal and publicity,” the lawsuit alleges.

        Father Shuler resigned as rector of the cathedral 1/2ndash 3/4 the diocese's central church 1/2ndash 3/4 three days before Easter.

        He could not be reached for comment. A man who answered the telephone at his former residence said Father Shuler no longer lives there and he couldn't say how to reach him.

        Father Shuler is not accused of child sexual abuse. Rather, the lawsuit alleges that the church's treatment of him and the three other priests named shows the church knew of but failed to deal with or inform parishioners of their sexual misconduct.

        The sealed portion of the suit also alleges that the Rev. Charles A. Howell was arrested in a Lexington park for indecent exposure in 1998 but was allowed to continue his work as a priest with no warning or notice to his parishioners.

        Tom Shaughnessy, a spokesman for the Lexington Diocese, said neither he nor the diocese's lawyer, John Famularo, could comment on any of the allegations while that portion of the lawsuit remains sealed.

        “It's under seal, and we're not to discuss the lawsuit,” he said.

        In its legal presentations on the case, the Covington Diocese is arguing that the statute of limitations for the lawsuit's allegations against the diocese has passed, thus barring the class action.

        The Lexington and Covington dioceses are fighting on in court to keep a portion of the suit involving Rev. Shuler and the three other priests sealed, contending the material in the sealed portion is not relevant to the plaintiffs' allegations of sexual abuse.

        Fayette Circuit Judge Mary Noble ruled last month that the sealed portion is not relevant to the lawsuit but ordered that it remain part of the record and open to the public. The material has remained sealed while the diocese appeals to the state Supreme Court.

        Prompted in part by recent lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by a former auxiliary bishop and former diocesan priests, the Diocese of Covington said in June it would “will meet within the month” to start revising its 22-page policy on sexual misconduct, the diocesan chancellor said.

        The Covington Diocese installed its new bishop, Roger J. Foys on July 15. That was a necessary step before the diocese could begin the actual work of policy revision. Bishop Foys replaced Bishop Robert W. Muench, who is now the Bishop of Baton Rouge.

        “We do plan to revise our policies and procedures for addressing sexual misconduct according to the bishops' charge,” said the Rev. Gerald Reinersman, chancellor of the Covington Diocese.

        The Courier-Journal contributed


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