Thursday, February 13, 2003

Lawsuit says Ky. diocese covered up for priests

By Jim Hannah and James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

BURLINGTON - Two Northern Kentucky residents have filed a proposed class-action suit against the Diocese of Covington, alleging an organized cover-up of sexual misconduct by priests involving more than 100 children since 1958.

Greg S. Harvey, 34, of Covington and Maria Rebecca Trout Caddell, 47, of Erlanger, claimed in the suit filed in Boone County Circuit Court that they are victims of sexual abuse by priests.

The suit asks the diocese to reform its handling of sexual misconduct allegations, asks for the appointment of an independent monitor and requests that alleged secret files be turned over.

It also seeks punitive damages, with interest.

"The class action is the best way I know to get final resolution for the many victims over the years," said Stan Chesley, who is co-counsel for the plaintiffs. "I think everyone wants a resolution, including the diocese."

Harvey and Caddell call for the diocese to open up a "secret archive" on all claims of sexual abuse and sexual misconduct by its priests. In addition, the suit seeks to retain an outside monitor that specializes in cases of child abuse, sexual abuse and sexual misconduct to monitor the diocese's practices for five years and to report any misconduct.

"The Diocese of Covington earnestly strives to address these matters in justice and fairness towards those who bring allegations," said diocese spokesman Tim Fitzgerald, who declined to comment on specific allegations made in the suit, filed Feb. 4. "We continue to abide by our own policies and procedures for addressing sexual misconduct."

Crestview Hills attorney Jack LaVelle, who has represented the diocese in the past, couldn't be reached Wednesday for comment.

Harvey and Caddell allege in the suit that the Covington Diocese maintained a confidential file of sexual abuse and misconduct of priests that is available to be viewed only by the bishop of Covington and the chancellor of the diocese.

The suit alleges the diocese refused to report the incidents contained in the file to any law enforcement agency or to others in the clergy.

"This ongoing policy and practice ... of concealing all information regarding sexual abuse and sexual misconduct by its priests created an atmosphere in which sexually abusive conduct was tolerated by the Diocese, thus having the effect of encouraging priests to engage in additional sexual abuse and misconduct, without fear or exposure, with children and adults who attended diocesan schools and parishes or who were employed or were employed by the Diocese," according to the suit.

The Northern Kentucky's suit "secret archive" claims makes a request similar to one that Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen has made and continues to fight for in court. Allen, for more than a year, has sought access to records of alleged abuse from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

There are no abuse class-action suits pending against the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Allen's investigation - one of many nationwide - was launched after Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk disclosed that the 19-county Ohio archdiocese continues to employ four unidentified priests who have been accused of misconduct.

Since spring 2002, four other Archdiocese of Cincinnati priests have been suspended or taken leave because of misconduct allegations.

In the Northern Kentucky suit, Harvey alleges he was sexually abused by a priest while attending St. Joseph's Elementary School in Camp Springs in 1981 and 1982 at the age of 13.

Caddell alleges abuse in 1967 at the age of 11 while a parishioner at St. Patrick's Church in Maysville.

The suit says the abuse of both victims occurred at various locations in Northern Kentucky, including the diocesan-assigned residences of the priests.

The suit does not name individual priests. But Barbara Bonar, a Covington lawyer who is co-counsel with Chesley in the suit and represents Harvey, said her client alleges he was abused by a now-suspended diocesan priest, the Rev. Louis J. Holtz.

Bonar also is representing John DiMuzio and his son Mark DiMuzio, both of Burlington, in a lawsuit against the diocese. That suit, which was filed in June, also contends that the diocese knew about alleged sexual abuse and covered it up. That suit, which also alleges hostile work environment and sexual harassment of the diocesan handymen, is still pending, Bonar said.

The DiMuzio suit names two other priests, the Rev. Paul Ciangetti, who died in 1995, and former Covington Associate Bishop Kendrick Williams, who resigned as bishop of Lexington following allegations of abuse there.

Williams has denied the allegations of abuse.

In another lawsuit filed against the diocese last month, plaintiff Mark Fischer, of Billings, Mont., accused Holtz of abuse during the late 1960s.

Holtz and the diocese also settled out of court with Bernard Gerhardstein of Fort Thomas in 1997, over alleged abuse at Holy Family Convent and St. Phillip's in Melbourne in Campbell County. That abuse allegedly took place over 1 years beginning in 1974.

As a result of that settlement, Holtz is undergoing "laicization," or the process of being defrocked.

Holtz declined comment when reached by phone Wednesday at his rural Kenton County home.

Holtz is the subject of a separate criminal investigation started in November by Campbell County prosecutor Jack Porter, the commonwealth attorney for Kentucky's 17th district. Porter started that investigation after meeting with Gerhardstein.

Bonar said her client was cooperating with that investigation.

"Absolutely, yes he is," Bonar said.

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