Wednesday, September 17, 2003

14 more sue archdiocese claiming abuse by priest



By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Fourteen men claimed in a lawsuit Tuesday that the Archdiocese of Cincinnati failed to protect them from a sexually abusive priest.

The lawsuit is one of three this year that accuse the Rev. Lawrence Strittmatter of molesting teenage boys in the 1960s, '70s and '80s.

A total of 24 men now have claims pending against Strittmatter and the archdiocese, making the lawsuit the largest of its kind in Greater Cincinnati since the priest abuse scandal erupted last year.

As in the earlier lawsuits, the suit filed Tuesday in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court claims church officials knew or should have known that Strittmatter was a threat to children.

"This confirms the pattern and, in fact, the policy of keeping these things concealed, of not addressing them properly and of not turning them over to authorities," said Konrad Kircher, the attorney who has filed all three lawsuits.

Church officials say they never attempted to hide abuse allegations and have been as open about Strittmatter's case as the law allows.

They say Strittmatter was sent to a New Mexico treatment facility for counseling in 1988 after a man complained he had been molested years earlier. A second complaint about past abuse prompted the priest's suspension last year.

Archdiocese spokesman Dan Andriacco said Strittmatter has admitted he abused both boys. Strittmatter could not be reached Tuesday. and his lawyer, Perry Ancona, declined comment.

Strittmatter has never been charged with a crime.

"We're sorry he ever abused anybody," Andriacco said.

He said church records indicate the complaints in 1988 and last year were the only specific allegations of abuse that the archdiocese received about Strittmatter until the lawsuits were filed this year.

But according to Kircher, church officials were warned about Strittmatter as early as the 1960s, when the mother of a teenage boy complained to another priest at Resurrection of Our Lord parish in West Price Hill.

He also cited a 1996 agreement between the archdiocese and one of Strittmatter's accusers. According to the agreement, church officials agreed to provide counseling to the alleged victim and give free Catholic school tuition to his two children in exchange for his promise not to sue the archdiocese.

Kircher's lawsuit claims that agreement is now void because the archdiocese failed to disclose that Strittmatter abused other children.

"He believed he was an isolated victim," Kircher said. "They never told him there were other victims."

The 24 men in the lawsuits are identified only as John Does, but Kircher said they include police officers, construction workers, doctors and bankers. "These are a lot of upstanding citizens," he said.

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E-mail dhorn@enquirer.com




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