Vatican defrocks 3 priests over sexual misconduct

Associated Press/October 29, 2014

By Dan Horn

The Vatican defrocked three Greater Cincinnati priests Tuesday because of sexual misconduct with children that occurred more than a decade ago.

The decision permanently removes the men from the priesthood and is the final step in the Roman Catholic Church's slow, methodical process of evaluating abuse cases and handing out discipline.

All three priests -- Thomas Kuhn, Thomas Feldhaus and Ronald Cooper -- had been on administrative leave for years and had been barred from saying Mass and performing any priestly acts. The Vatican's move to dismiss them "from the clerical state" means they can never again present themselves as priests.

"I hope that this resolution will bring some measure of closure and healing to anyone harmed by these priests," said Cincinnati Archbishop Dennis Schnurr.

Schnurr said the decision Tuesday resolves the last of the clergy abuse cases from Greater Cincinnati pending before the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The cases came to light a decade ago after the clergy abuse scandal exploded nationwide.

"I deeply regret that any representative of the local church has ever harmed a child under our care," Schnurr said.

Victims and advocacy groups have complained for years that the Vatican's disciplinary process drags on too long and ultimately does little to ease the pain of victims.

"When church officials defrock predator priests, it's less about safeguarding kids. It's more about church damage control," said Barbara Dorris, outreach director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "Still, we are grateful these priests are now, finally, ousted from the priesthood.

"Without that Roman collar and the respect that accompanies it, they will find it a bit harder to win the trust of parents, gain access to kids, and sexually assault them."

The three priests are among more than a dozen from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati who have been placed on administrative leave for at least some time since 2002 because of allegations of sexual misconduct. The three priests continued to draw a pay check while on leave, but they will not do so following the Vatican's action Tuesday.

They will, however, receive whatever pension they were due at the time they were placed on leave.

Kuhn, a former principal at Elder High School, was suspended in 2002 after police seized office computers at St. Henry's parish in Dayton, Ohio, where he was pastor. Court documents showed that the computers had been used more than 100 times to access websites with names such as "boyforboy," "boyzparty" and "cityboyz."

Kuhn was convicted in 2004 of 11 misdemeanor charges of public indecency and providing alcohol to minors. He served 30 days in jail in 2005 after violating terms of his probation.

Feldhaus was placed on leave in 2003 after he was accused of inappropriately touching a minor on two occasions around 1979, the archdiocese said. He also was accused in a lawsuit of sexually abusing a former student at Our Lady of Victory in Delhi Township from 1986 to 1991.

The archdiocese placed Cooper on leave in 2004 after he was accused of inappropriately touching a boy while he was associate pastor at St. Aloysius Gonzaga parish in Bridgetown in the mid-1980s. Archdiocese officials have said Cooper acknowledged he had contact with the boy but said his actions were without sexual intent.

Local victims' advocates said the Vatican's actions do not make up for what they consider the church's slow response to abuse allegations over the past several decades. They say the delay or failure to report complaints about priests to local authorities contributed to victims' anger and frustration and made it difficult for many to seek justice in court years later.

Because statutes of limitations had expired in many old abuse cases, most accused priests never faced criminal charges. Neither Feldhaus nor Cooper were charged with crimes.

"It is a sad day when old wounds are reopened and the excruciatingly slow process of justice within the Catholic Church finally delivers an outcome, one that is essentially meaningless," said Dan Frondorf, a leader of the Cincinnati chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

"The Vatican's actions on this day are far too little and far too late," he said.

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