Friday, February 28, 2003

Diocese's 'archive' of victims sought


Lawsuit: Misconduct covered up since '58

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo]
Holtz


Cincinnati lawyer Stan Chesley sought Thursday to compel the Diocese of Covington to release a "secret archive" containing names of people who have complained of sexual abuse by priests.

Chesley represents a client claiming sexual molestation, and is also leading a proposed class-action lawsuit against the diocese. The proposed suit claims the diocese covered up sexual misconduct by priests involving more than 100 children since 1958.

The archive, if released, would help Chesley identify the members of the class.

The motion in Boone County Circuit Court used the words of a now-deceased Diocesan chancellor and canon lawyer, the Rev. Roger Kriege, in a molestation case against former Covington priest Earl Bierman in 1998.

Kriege's testimony had been offered as legal backing for the diocese in a deposition in a civil case involving Bierman.

"Father Kriege admitted that no religious counseling records were in the Canon 489, or `secret archive' files that contain complaints of sexual abuse," Chesley's motion said. That would put the archive outside the realm of documents protected in Kentucky by religious counseling privilege, it argues.

MISCONDUCT HISTORY
1993 The Rev. Earl Bierman pleads guilty to molesting six boys in the 1960s and 1970s. Sentenced to 20-year prison term.
1995 Bernard Gerhardstein tells Diocese about alleged abuse in 1974-75 by Father Lou Holtz, who is suspended and retires.
1997 Diocese settles out of court for an undisclosed amount with Gerhardstein.
1997 Holtz settles out of court for $10,000 in an agreement that called for the priest to be voluntarily defrocked or "laicized."
December 2002 Mark Fischer files suit against the Diocese, alleging abuse by Holtz
Feb. 4, 2003 Attorney Stan Chesley files proposed suit claiming diocese covered up abuse.
Bierman pleaded guilty in 1993 to 25 counts of molestation of six teenage boys connected with Covington Latin High School, Newport Central Catholic High School and St. Patrick School in Maysville. He is serving a 20-year sentence at the Kentucky State Reformatory at LaGrange.

The motion to gain access to the archive comes after the diocese issued a generic legal response that Chesley said was insensitive to a victim of alleged sexual abuse. The legal response asserted, among other possible defenses, that the victim "may have assumed a known and obvious risk" and "may have been comparatively negligent."

Mark Fischer, now of Billings, Mont., had accused Father Louis J. Holtz of sexually abusing him when he attended Newport Catholic, where the priest was a teacher. The suit claims the abuse began in 1970, when Fischer was 13 and continued for three years.

Holtz, who is undergoing "laicization," or the process of being defrocked, is the subject of a separate criminal investigation started in November by Campbell Commonwealth Attorney Jack Porter.

Holtz and the diocese have settled out of court with Bernard Gerhardstein of Fort Thomas in 1997 over alleged abuse by Holtz at Holy Family Convent and St. Phillip's in Melbourne.

In their response to Fischer's lawsuit, lawyers for the Diocese of Covington offered eight possible defenses, among them the two Chesley cited as insensitive.

Chesley, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Fischer, said the diocesan response "makes no sense."

"To suggest that the plaintiff may have been at fault is absurd," Chesley said Thursday. "They would be better off to deny everything than to suggest that this poor young man was at fault."

Mark Guilfoyle, one of two diocesan lawyers who filed the response, said: "For goodness sakes, Stan Chesley knows better than that." He referred all questions to a statement by the diocese.

Through the statement issued Thursday, diocesan spokesman Tim Fitzgerald said the diocese had given a standard legal response that should not be interpreted as blaming an abuse victim.

"The Diocese of Covington has not and will in no way take the position that abuse victims are to blame for any abuse they may have suffered," the statement said. "The Diocese does not condone, ignore or abet sexual misbehavior and the Diocese will endeavor to see that victims are treated with dignity and respect."

While the diocese would like to resolve such claims "without involving lawyers or the courts," the statement said the diocese must make a legal defense.

"In such lawsuits, its lawyers are bound to assert legal defenses that may be available," the statement said.

"Failure to raise these boilerplate defenses can result in such defenses being waived. The assertion that these defenses may be available should not be interpreted to mean that the Diocese blames a person bringing the lawsuit for any abuse that may have occurred," it said.

A representative of The Linkup, an international Louisville-based support group for victims and survivors of clergy sexual abuse, was critical of the diocese.

"This is a response that victims get all too often," said Father Gary Hayes, who's an executive board member of The Linkup and a priest in the Diocese of Owensboro. As a teenager, Hayes said he was abused by two Catholic priests.

"There's simply no way that a child can bear any responsibility for that behavior, absolutely no way," Hayes said. "It's irresponsible for anybody to suggest that. To add to the guilt and the trauma of the victim by suggesting that it was his fault is unconscionable. It's immoral."

E-mail cschroeder@enquirer.com






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