Thursday, March 6, 2003

State police join priest investigation

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Two Northern Kentucky men who say they were sexually abused as adolescents by a now-suspended Diocese of Covington priest, the Rev. Louis J. Holtz, will discuss their allegations with Kentucky State Police today,their lawyer said.

A third man who served on a church committee at St. Joseph's parish in Camp Springs in the early 1980s also will tell authorities he was aware of "complaints and concerns about Father Holtz' relations with the children of the parish," Covington lawyer Barbara Bonar said Wednesday.

"My clients plan to cooperate with the criminal investigation," Bonar said. "They will be providing additional allegations against Father Holtz."

Campbell Commonwealth Attorney Jack Porter confirmed that Bonar's clients will be meeting today with the state police trooper who is handling the criminal investigation of Holtz. "The detective will communicate with me after he interviews the witnesses," Porter said.

One of the men, Greg S. Harvey, of Covington, is a plaintiff in 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.

Bonar is co-counsel in that lawsuit with Cincinnati attorneys Stan Chesley and Robert Steinberg.

The suit calls for the diocese to open up a "secret archive" on all claims of sexual abuse and sexual misconduct by its priests.

Bonar declined to identify the other two men cooperating with authorities in the 3-month-old criminal investigation of Holtz.

The other two aren't involved in any of the civil lawsuits against diocesan priests, and she said they didn't want to be identified.

The proposed class-action lawsuit filed last month in Boone Circuit Court did not name individual priests. But Bonar said Harvey, now 34, claimed he was sexually abused by Holtz in 1980-81, mostly on diocese property. She said some incidents occurred at St. Joseph's parish in Camp Springs.

Also meeting with authorities today is a 62-year-old Campbell County man who alleges he was sexually abused by Holtz during camping trips in 1953 and 1954, Bonar said. She declined to elaborate.

Bonar said a third client allegedly heard members of St. Joseph's parish in Camp Springs express concerns about Holtz's relationships with children during the early 1980s, the same period that Harvey said he was abused.

In a lawsuit filed against the diocese in January, Mark Fischer, of Billings, Mont., accused Holtz of abuse during the early 1970s.

Bonar said she is aware of allegations that Holtz sexually abused adolescent boys for at least 28 years - from the mid-1950s through the early 1980s.

Holtz, who now lives in rural Kenton County and does not present himself as a priest, could not be reached for comment .

During his 37-year career, Holtz lived in nine parishes or institutions and had a variety of assignments, according to records provided earlier by the diocese.

From 1964 to 1974, the priest served as a part-time teacher at Newport Central Catholic High, where he organized an Outdoor Camping Club for boys.

He also served as chaplain and director for the diocesan Boy Scout program during his career, and he was known to take groups of boys on camping trips.

The suspended priest was first accused of abuse last June. Bernard Gerhardstein of Fort Thomas said Holtz had abused him beginning in 1974 in rural Campbell County, when he was 13.

Gerhardstein said he settled out of court in August 1997 with the diocese for an undisclosed sum and with Holtz for $10,000 in a separate agreement.

He violated a confidentiality agreement to tell his story, but the diocese has not taken any action against him.

Gerhardstein, now 41, met with Campbell County prosecutors last fall.

Diocesan spokesman Tim Fitzgerald said Holtz is undergoing laicization, or the process of being defrocked.

Besides Gerhardstein, the Diocese of Covington has received complaints from other individuals about Holtz, "some of which were anonymous,'' said Mark Guilfoyle, a lawyer for the diocese.


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