Newspaper review of church abuse suits shows patterns

The Courier-Journal/September 29, 2002

Louisville, Ky.-- Many of the people who are suing the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville for sexual abuse say the alleged abuses destroyed their faith in people, in their religion, even in God.

"At first I was mad at the priest," said Louis E. Smith, 33, a former altar boy who is suing the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville. "Then I was mad at God. If priests are His word on Earth, how could He let them do this?"

The Courier-Journal of Louisville examined the 185 lawsuits that have been filed against the archdiocese since April.

Using a database built on the lawsuits and interviews with 128 of the plaintiffs, the newspaper found that:

Nearly five times as many plaintiffs claim to have been molested in the 1960s and 1970s as the 1980s or 1990s. Only 20 plaintiffs allege they were victimized since 1982, when Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly was installed.

One-fourth of those interviewed said that they or their parents reported their alleged abuse to church or school authorities, although many of those reports can't be confirmed because the officials are dead or plaintiffs say they can't remember their names.

Well over half of those interviewed said they told nobody about the abuse when it allegedly happened, not their mother, father or best friend. Seven plaintiffs said they told a parent or other relative who didn't believe them.

Most of the plaintiffs said they were fondled. One woman said she was raped and 16 others say they were victims of rape, attempted rape, oral sex or sodomy.

The allegations span 40 years (from 1951 to 1991) and 35 parishes.

Some of those accused have denied wrongdoing while most haven't responded to requests for interviews or could not be located.

The archdiocese has denied it covered up abuse and said the suits should be dismissed because the plaintiffs waited too long to file them.

The archdiocese declined to comment on several of the newspaper's findings, or whether they might help or hurt the Catholic Church in the litigation.

But the archdiocese's chancellor and chief administrative officer, Brian Reynolds, reiterated that it received few reports of abuse over the years, including under previous archbishops, and for that reason "the number of ... lawsuits is both surprising and alarming."

Among the angriest of plaintiffs are those who say they tried to report their abuser at the time.

"If they had dealt with this when I had the guts to report it, many other boys wouldn't have been molested," said Brian Weatherbee, who claims that he reported to a senior pastor that he'd been molested in 1981 by the Rev. Daniel C. Clark, who was transferred to three parishes in succession, where he is accused of abusing more boys.

The plaintiffs represent a broad cross section of the community and many walks of life.

They include 16 business owners and managers; three letter carriers; three physicians, a nurse and a medical technician; three incarcerated felons, one lawyer and another lawyer-to-be; a retired police chief, a retired police sergeant and a firefighter.

They also include a spiritual adviser, a yoga teacher and a history professor; three electricians, two mechanics and a pipefitter; two engineers and an architect; a car salesman, a laid-off stagehand, a professional sportsman and one man who makes fishing lures.

The newspaper's review found that priests and other church employees are alleged to have used a host of enticements to lure their victims and threats to keep them quiet.

A plaintiff whose family was poor said the priest who allegedly molested him would give him $10 or $15 after each incident, while another plaintiff claims that he was rewarded with leftover communion wine and $5 or $10 from the church offering.

Eight plaintiffs said that priests plied them with alcohol, marijuana or cigarettes, and four said they were abused by a priest who took them to drive-in movies.

Five plaintiffs said they were molested by a relative, who was a priest.

Some, like Ronald L. Snipp, 53, say the priest who allegedly abused them was the most important man in their lives. Snipp, who lives in Versailles, Ky., and alleges that he was molested by the Rev. Arthur L. Wood in 1960, described the priest as a surrogate father.

"I went everywhere with him: circuses, rodeos, vacations," Snipp said of Wood, who died in 1983. "He taught me to drive. My mother thought I was going to be a priest and so did I."

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