Priest at council event faced sex allegation 5, 2011

The Catholic priest who delivered the closing prayer at Cincinnati City Council's swearing-in ceremony last week once served a four-year suspension because of sexual misconduct accusations.

The Rev. James Kiffmeyer, pastor at Holy Family Church in Price Hill, agreed to say the prayer last Thursday when he was asked to do it by a City Council clerk.

A victims' rights advocate sent a letter to City Council members demanding an apology and said Monday the selection of Kiffmeyer was offensive to sexual abuse victims.

"I think they gave him a very nice honor when there were a number of other, better choices," said Dan Frondorf, a leader of the local chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "I don't think we should be honoring people who have been disgraced."

City officials, including the clerk who invited Kiffmeyer, said they did not know about the accusations or the priest's suspension. At least one council member, Chris Seelbach, said Kiffmeyer would not have been invited if council had known about his history.

"He probably deserves an apology," he said of Frondorf.

Mayor Mark Mallory would say only that his office was not involved in the selection of Kiffmeyer.

The prayer itself was short and generated no controversy: "May God bring your work to completion," Kiffmeyer said. "May God look upon you with kindness and give you peace."

Kiffmeyer's suspension came in 2002 after two men accused him of sexual misconduct. Both accusers were 18 at the time of the alleged misconduct and were former students at Fenwick High School, where Kiffmeyer was a teacher.

One accuser's claim dates to 1986 and the other's to 1990. The Archdiocese of Cincinnati has said Kiffmeyer reached a "four-figure" settlement with one of his accusers.

Kiffmeyer, who has denied the accusations, could not be reached for comment Monday. He was suspended for four years before successfully appealing to the Vatican, which reinstated him after determining the cases were too old to pursue.

Church officials handled Kiffmeyer's case differently than most other clergy misconduct cases because his accusers were legally adults, not children. He would not have been subject to the church's "zero tolerance" rules on child abuse even if the accusations had been confirmed.

Kiffmeyer became the pastoral administrator at Holy Family in 2008 after a months-long campaign by his supporters in the parish.

Archdiocese spokesman Dan Andriacco said the church has received no complaints about Kiffmeyer since he became pastor. He said priests are not required to get permission from the archdiocese before accepting invitations like the one to appear at City Hall.

"Pastors get asked to do things like that all the time," Andriacco said. "They don't consult with us, nor do they need to."

Councilman Charlie Winburn, a minister, said he thought the mayor's office approved everyone who took part in the swearing-in ceremony and assumed someone at City Hall vetted them first. No one would be invited to speak at his church, he said, without a background check first.

"If there are facts to show this," he said, "then I believe the council may have to write a letter of apology."

Councilman Christopher Smitherman, also president of the local chapter of the NAACP, did not know about Father Kiffmeyer's past either.

"I extend my deepest apologies on behalf of my office," he said.

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