Bishop Foys apologizes to victims

New report says 158 cases of sex abuse in Covington diocese

The Cincinnati Post/August 30, 2003
By Paul A. Long

The Catholic Diocese of Covington has released an extraordinary report that outlines a 50-year history of sexual abuse by priests in the diocese, and the church's paying nearly $4.5 million as a result of that abuse.

The report, which includes an apology from Bishop Roger Foys, shows that 30 of the diocese's 372 priests since 1950 sexually abused at least one child. But none of that abuse has taken place for at least 13 years, the report shows, and all 30 priests are either dead, resigned from the priesthood, or no longer in active ministry.

"I assure you that, as far as humanly possible, we will do all we can to ensure that there are no further instances of child abuse by priests, deacons, religious and church employees in our diocese,'' Foys wrote in an introduction to the report.

"I can assure you now that, to the best of my knowledge, there is no priest in public ministry in the Diocese of Covington who has abused a minor.''

Diocese spokesman Tim Fitzgerald could not say where the 17 abusive priests who are still alive are living. Nine of the abusers are dead, and four were removed from the priesthood.

Parts of the report are in line with mandates from U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference and its National Review Board. Among other things, the bishops say each diocese must have a written policy to respond to accusations and that all known offenders have been permanently removed from ministry.

The National Review Board is also undertaking a study on the number of abusive priests and victims, but there is no mandate that any information specific to an individual diocese be published. Indeed, a number of dioceses throughout the country have objected to any survey at all.

"I think it's a wonderful, courageous act on the part of the bishop,'' said William Burleigh, a Rabbit Hash resident and member of the national board. "I think all bishops should do it, but not enough are.''

Once such information is out in the open, it can be dealt with. Only then, he said, "can you end the scandal and restore the credibility that's been missing.''

Other surveys and estimates show that the Covington Diocese appears to be in line with reports of sexually abusive priests nationwide. The Louisville-based group, The Linkup -- Survivors of Clergy Abuse, estimates that of the country's 50,000 Roman Catholic priests, between 3,000 to 8,000, or 6.1 percent to 16.3 percent, are abusers.

The figures released by Covington indicate that about 8.5 percent of the diocese's priests over 50 years might fall into that category.

But while the report says the diocese has received 158 reports of child-sexual abuse since 1950, a lawyer suing on behalf of several victims calls that number "just the tip of the iceberg.''

"There are so many people out there who were afraid to report it, or who were actively discouraged from reporting it,'' said Amberley Village attorney Stan Chesley, who has filed what he hopes will become a class-action lawsuit against the diocese in Boone Circuit Court. "There were many people who were young at the time and who were afraid to come forward.''

The report was issued as a 16-page insert in The Messenger, the diocesan paper in Covington, which was mailed to about 27,000 Catholics on Friday. Included was a brief history of sex abuse in the diocese, a commitment to report any and all child abuse to the proper authorities, and a report on how much the church has spent because of the abuse.

It said that since 1989, legal fees have cost more than $900,000. Settlements have cost $2.6 million, and $721,000 has been spent on counseling. Insurance has paid for nearly $2 million in settlements and $700,000 in legal fees.

The remainder was paid with cash from interest on investments, the diocese said in the report.

Such an outlining of priestly sexual abuse, and its cost, is rare in the country. Sue Archibald, director of The Linkup, said it's a good beginning for openness.

But she noted that in some dioceses, bishops have gone further and named the abusive priests. Nothing like that is planned for Covington, Fitzgerald said.

"It's good that Bishop Foys has done this,'' Archibald said. "It's a step in the right direction.''

Foys introduced the report with an apology and a note that it began shortly after he came to the diocese a little over a year ago.

"This report is a painful reality, but one which we must face and one about which we must be open,'' he said.

Fitzgerald declined to answer many questions about the report -- including how many reports of abuse had been turned over to authorities, where abusive priests were now living, or what prompted the bishop to release the report.

"I have to let the bishop speak for himself,'' he said, directing a reporter to the bishop's letter.

"He thought and prayed about what was the right thing to do -- and he felt this was the time to be open.''

In addition to Chesley's lawsuits in Boone County, the diocese has faced several others through the years, including one that went to trial and resulted in a jury award of more than $700,000 in compensatory and punitive damages against the diocese.

It also has seen at least one priest -- Earl Bierman -- go to prison for abusing boys in the 1960s and 1970s. Bierman, who pleaded guilty to 28 counts of abuse in three counties, remains incarcerated at the Kentucky State Reformatory at La Grange, where he is serving a 20-year sentenced handed down in 1993.

At least one other former priest is currently under investigation for abusing children in Campbell County. Commonwealth Attorney Jack Porter has confirmed that Kentucky State Police are investigating claims against Louis Holtz, the former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary in Hebron.

The investigation, which began last year, has been slowed because several victims are reluctant to talk for the record, Porter said. But as recently as two weeks ago, the diocese turned over two more names of those who said they were victims of Holtz's sexual abuse in the 1970s, Porter said.

The 1960s and 1970s were when the vast majority of abuse took place. Of the 158 allegations, 130 of them took place between 1960 and 1979.

But it wasn't until the 1990s that people began reporting abuse in large numbers. Until 1989, only 15 allegations were reported. After that, the numbers skyrocketed to 112 in the 1990s, and 31 since the year 2000.

Even the diocese acknowledges that many of the complaints were generated from publicity about Bierman.

"The publicity from this case raised public awareness,'' it said.

"The diocese contacted former students of Earl Bierman, asking those who were abused to contact the diocese. -- Following this, more cases surfaced as it became publicly acceptable to discuss the pain and damage done by sexual abuse of minors.''

During the flurry of lawsuits against Bierman and the diocese, then then-chancellor of the diocese testified under oath that it had received allegations of sexual misconduct against 38 employees of the diocese, including 32 priests.

Those allegations ran the gamut from abuse of children to adult affairs between priests and married women. Again, many of the accusations involved incidents that occurred during the 1960s or 1970s, but were not reported for 20 years or more.

And Father Roger Kriege, then the diocese's chancellor and second-ranking official, said he investigated the instances and found none that was made up.

"I've never come across a false allegation yet," Kriege said in the 1993 deposition, which included notes and ran more than 350 pages. "There's different interpretations, but the allegation is usually dealing with something real."

Foys said the diocese is committed to helping those who were victimized by abusive priests. He has changed some policies to make it easier to report such abuse, and has said he will meet personally with every such victim. He has eliminated the church's demand for confidentiality agreements -- unless requested by the victims -- that settle lawsuit, and said he will not hold anyone who signed such an agreement to it.

He also has instituted criminal background checks for new employees and volunteers who work with minors.

But Chesley remains skeptical. He questioned whether the diocese decided to release the report in response to his lawsuits. (Fitzgerald said the decision was unrelated.)

"I appreciate the report,'' Chesley said.

"I think it's significant. It's unfortunate that we have to litigate before we can get them to make this important commitment.''

Cost Breakdown

From 1989 to the present, the Covington Diocese has spent:

  • $721,923 for counseling.
  • $217,505 in legal fees, most between 1993 and 1996.
  • $755,150 in uninsured settlements with victims.

    From 1993 to the present, the diocese's insurance carrier has paid:

  • $1,958,024 in insured settlements.
  • $709,171 in legal expenses.

    Source of the funds spent on abuse cases:

  • Only money from the Diocese's insurance company or accrued interest on investments has been spent on those cases.
  • No money from parish assessments, the Diocesan Annual Appeal or the sale of real estate has been spent on the cases.

    New Measures

    New measures being taken by the Covington Diocese:

  • Appointment of Ms. Margaret M. Schack as Victims Assistance Coordinator.
  • Background checks for all new employees and volunteers.
  • Complete conformity with "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" issued by the United States Conference of Bishops.
  • Full cooperation with civil authorities on abuse cases.
  • Reporting all allegations regarding minors to the authorities, even if not required by law.
  • No longer including confidentiality agreements as part of settlements over abuse. The bishop will not hold anyone to such a condition that was entered as part of a past agreement.
  • Offering a personal meeting with the bishop to any person alleging abuse as a minor.

  • To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.