Tuesday, May 21, 2002

Louisville archdiocese faces 75 lawsuits

By Lori Burling
The Associated Press

        LOUISVILLE — What was once treated as a moral issue within the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville has now become a legal issue involving attorneys for alleged victims, the archdiocese and a newspaper.

        Since April 19, 75 men and women have filed lawsuits against the archdiocese claiming they were sexually abused by priests when they were children. They say the archdi ocese was aware of the abuse but did not contact law enforcement agencies or properly reprimand the priests.

        The lawsuits have accused nine current or former priests of the alleged misconduct, but none is named as a defendant.

        Pat Sexton, the director of religion education at the Cathedral of the Assumption in downtown Louisville, said the pending lawsuits could “truly hurt” the parishes.

        “If the archdiocese has to pay out for all of those lawsuits, it could impact the way our services, such as health care and education, are delivered to parishioners,” she said Monday. “It probably won't happen for years, but it's a definite concern.”

        William McMurry — the attorney who represents all of the plaintiffs except two — said he had more interviews scheduled with possible plaintiffs.

        “There's going to be a lot more suits,” he said Monday.

        The Louisville archdiocese has been pounded by accusations that it covered up dozens of sexual abuse complaints more than 30 years ago. Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly, who has been archbishop since 1982, has said that he believed past officials “could have handled the complaints differently.”

        However, some say Archbishop Kelly and the archdiocese are trying to continue the cover-up.

        Last week, attorneys for the archdiocese filed a motion in Jefferson Circuit Court to seal all future records or lawsuits regard ing sexual abuse cases within the Catholic community. Attorneys cited a 1998 state statute that says records regarding childhood sexual abuse should be sealed if they are more than 5 years old. Most of the recent accusations are more than 30 years old.

        “They shouldn't be sealed,” Mr. McMurry said Monday. “There's no question about it. The plaintiffs are adults and have the right to tell their story. The archdiocese is simply trying to cover up the abuse.”

        A day after the archdiocese filed its motion, The Courier-Journal filed a motion to intervene. The Louisville newspaper claims sealing the lawsuits and records would violate First Amendment rights.

        Judge Barry Willett granted the newspaper's motion during a hearing Monday. A court hearing was scheduled for June 14 to hear from all three parties regarding the sealing of the lawsuits.


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