Thursday, June 24, 2004

Priest pleads in abuse

Ex-Elder principal faces up to 18 months

By Dan Horn
Enquirer staff writer

DAYTON - Former Elder High School principal Thomas Kuhn faces up to 18 months in prison after his conviction Wednesday on charges of buying alcohol for minors and performing a sex act in front of a child.

The 63-year-old priest pleaded no contest to the misdemeanor charges in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court, ending a two-year investigation into his involvement with children at his home in suburban Dayton.

Prosecutors also had investigated dozens of explicit images found on Kuhn's church computers, but they were unable to identify the young men in those images and could not determine whether the material violated child-porn laws.

Court documents show that the computers had been used more than 100 times to access Web sites with names such as boyforboy, boyzparty and cityboyz.

With his plea, Kuhn became the second Greater Cincinnati priest in nearly a decade to be convicted of sexual misconduct involving a child. The other, Ken Schoettmer, was sentenced to probation after admitting he molested a 17-year-old boy in Cincinnati.

Montgomery County Prosecutor Mathias Heck Jr. said he will urge Judge Mary Katherine Huffman to send Kuhn to prison when he is sentenced next month.

"Because of the position of trust he was in, he should have to answer to that standard," Heck said.

He said Kuhn provided alcohol at his home to at least five children in late 2001 and early 2002. On one occasion, Heck said, Kuhn masturbated in front of a sixth child.

Heck said most of the victims were 16 or 17 years old.

The offenses occurred while Kuhn was working at St. Henry's parish in Dayton. He joined the parish in 2001 after several assignments in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, including seven years as principal at Elder in the 1980s.

Kuhn was subdued in court Wednesday and did not comment beyond short responses to questions from the judge.

"Yes, your honor," he said when asked if he understood the charges against him.

He wore a blue and white striped shirt rather than the traditional black of a Catholic priest. He has been barred from wearing the priest's Roman collar since he was charged last year with public indecency and providing alcohol to minors.

Church spokesman Dan Andriacco said Kuhn's case will be referred to the Vatican, which has the power to remove him from the priesthood. And under new "zero-tolerance" rules on child abuse, Kuhn could be permanently removed from ministry no matter what the Vatican does.

"These are certainly charges that could be in the realm of child abuse," Andriacco said.

He said the archdiocese may investigate the case further, even though Heck said his office is unlikely to file additional charges against Kuhn unless new evidence is found. Andriacco said the images on the computers are "a considerable source of concern" for the archdiocese.

Victims' advocates have said church officials let Kuhn remain in ministry despite complaints about his behavior.

"This is not the first time there have been allegations," said Mike Knellinger, co-chairman of Voice of the Faithful in Dayton. "Yet Kuhn was allowed to remain active."

Andriacco said the church received complaints about the amount of time Kuhn spent with children, but he said no one ever made a specific claim of abuse.

Heck said church officials did not report complaints against Kuhn but were cooperative with his investigation. He said his investigators have spoken to as many as 50 alleged victims during the past two years about the conduct of several priests, including Kuhn.

Most allegations were so old that prosecution was barred by the statute of limitations, Heck said. And in some cases, he said, victims simply did not want to pursue charges.

The archdiocese, which covers 19 counties, disclosed earlier this year that 188 children have accused 49 priests of sexual abuse since 1950. The archdiocese was convicted last year in Hamilton County of failing to report abuse allegations to authorities.

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