Friday, June 07, 2002

Accused priest served in N.Ky.


Lawsuit alleges abuse in Lexington

By Cindy Schroeder, cschroeder@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        ERLANGER — A priest accused in a sexual abuse lawsuit served for 15 years in Northern Kentucky and taught at three Catholic schools in the area.

        Supporters of the Rev. Bill Fedders say he is a respected pastor and educator. He has worked 34 years in the Roman Catholic dioceses of Covington and Lexington.

        He celebrated Mass and counseled people in at least three Northern Kentucky parishes, and taught at Bishop Brossart, Covington Catholic and the former St. Thomas High School between 1968 and 1981. He also supported youth sports, parishioners and school officials said.

PASTOR, TEACHER
Rev. Bill Fedders
Born: July 27, 1942, in Covington.
Ordained: 1968.
Service:
    June 1968: Assigned to St. Thomas Parish as associate pastor and was on the faculty of St. Thomas High School (which closed after the 1975-76 school year) in Fort Thomas.
Fedders
Fedders
    June 1971: Assigned to St. Joseph Parish in Cold Spring. He was living at the parish and was a full-time faculty member at Bishop Brossart High School in Alexandria.
    1974: Assigned to the faculty at Covington Catholic High School and also was in residence at St. Pius X of Edgewood.
    1976: Moved to Mary Queen of Heaven in Erlanger and remained on the faculty of Covington Catholic High School.
    1981: Assigned as associate pastor of Christ the King Parish in Lexington, which was then part of the Diocese of Covington.
    1983: Promoted from administrator of Christ the King Parish in Lexington to pastor of St. Clare Parish in Berea.
    1984: Served as assistant pastor at Holy Family Parish in Ashland.
    1987: Named pastor of St. Patrick Church in Mount Sterling.
    January 1988: Was pastor of St. Patrick Church in Mount Sterling when that became part of the newly created Diocese of Lexington.
    Source: Diocese of Covington
        The suit filed in Fayette Circuit Court on Monday by Will L. McGinnis III, 33, of Lexington, alleges that Father Fedders abused him when he served as a priest at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Lexington in 1983.

        Mr. McGinnis, who is acting as his own attorney, says in his suit that Father Fedders sexually abused him three times in his eighth-grade year and the summer before ninth grade.

        The Lexington real estate broker, former mayoral and Democratic congressional candidate, and former stripper for a strip-o-gram service, said Monday that he was a 14-year-old altar boy when the abuse occurred.

        Father Fedders, now pastor at Jesus Our Savior Catholic Church in Morehead, Ky., was at a conference Thursday and could not be reached for comment.

        Until Monday's lawsuit, Tom Shaunessey, spokesman for the Lexington diocese, said he wasn't aware of any complaints alleging sexual misconduct by Father Fedders.

        Covington Diocese spokesman Tim Fitzgerald declined to comment when asked if any allegations were made against Father Fedders when the priest worked in the Diocese of Covington.
       

Calls of support

        Since the allegations were first aired on a Central Kentucky television station, Father Fedders' current church has received dozens of calls from past and current parish members expressing their support for him.

        A woman who answered the phone at the church, but declined to give her name, said the parish had even heard from a former priest now living in England who wanted to express his support for Father Fedders.

        “The people of the Jesus Our Savior Parish know Father Fedders only as a very caring, concerned, loving person,” the woman said. “He (also) works with the Newman Center (at Morehead State University), and they're behind him 100 percent too.”

        Jack Kennevan, the six-year principal of Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills, said he had no comment on the allegations in the lawsuit. However, he added: “I have met the man, and he's a good, wholesome man. He has been nothing but a source of support and inspiration for Covington Catholic High School.”

        Mr. Kennevan said Father Fedders had recently helped the school with its annual cross-country event at Thomas More College.

        “He has carried out his priestly duties in exemplary fashion, and I am shocked that he is so accused,” Mr. Kennevan said.

        “I am quite hopeful that, like Archbishop (Joseph) Bernardin, that Father Fedders will be vindicated.”
       

Courts and canon

        As has been alleged in lawsuits filed against dioceses throughout the U.S., Mr. McGinnis in his suit said that church officials in the Covington and Lexington dioceses failed to report the alleged abuse to law enforcement authorities and did not properly supervise priests under their control. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

        Church spokesmen in the two dioceses declined to comment on the allegations raised in the lawsuit, saying they had not yet seen it.

        In keeping with the Diocese of Lexington's 8-year-old policy, Father Fedders will be placed on administrative leave pending the resolution of the lawsuit, said Mr. Shaunessey.

        “It's an administrative action, not a disciplinary one,” he said. “It's to give opportunity and a space for allegations to be sorted out.”

        When asked whether the Church would launch its own investigation or ask others to investigate the allegations in the two lawsuits, Mr. Fitzgerald said, “The persons filing the lawsuits have chosen to use the legal process. We will await the outcome of that process.”

        On June 13-15, the U.S. Bishops Conference will meet in Dallas, Texas to discuss and possibly act on a zero-tolerance policy against priests who molest children in the future and a “two strikes-you're out” policy for those guilty of past abuse.

        However, Mr. Fitzgerald cautioned that it would be “unrealistic” to expect an immediate change.

        “I think there will be announcements and recommendations from Dallas, but there won't be immediate change,” Mr. Fitzgerald said. He added that any policy developed by the bishops would still have to be approved by the Vatican.

        “I think it would be unrealistic to expect that the day after the meeting in Dallas that there would be a new set of policies that would govern the Church in the U.S.,” Mr. Fitzgerald said. “But I think it would be fair to say that everybody wants this issue resolved.”

        The Diocese of Covington is currently between bishops, as former Bishop Robert Muench was installed March 14 as the bishop of the Diocese of Baton Rouge.

        Bishop-elect Roger J. Foys of Steubenville, Ohio, and the Rev. Robert Wehage — who's serving as administrator of the Diocese of Covington until Monsignor Foys' July 15 installation — will represent the 89,000-member Diocese of Covington in Dallas, Mr. Fitzgerald said.

        Even though he has yet to be formally installed, Bishop-elect Foys said Thursday that he will have a vote at the conference. However, he declined to give his stance on the proposed policy, saying he wants to listen to all the facts presented at the conference.

        The McGinnis suit was the second recent sex-abuse lawsuit filed against the Lexington and Covington dioceses. On May 30, Lexington lawyer Robert Treadway filed a $50 million lawsuit on behalf of four unnamed men and one unnamed woman. They alleged they were sexually abused by priests under the two dioceses' control.
       
       



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