Kentucky Church's Year of Turmoil
Louisville hit hard by flood of allegations
By Peter Smith
The Courier-Journal - December 31, 2002
The revelations began erupting in early January, alleging
cover-ups of abuse by priests in Boston. By summer, it was clear
that the Archdiocese of Louisville and the Diocese of Lexington
would be hit particularly hard in what one Catholic commentator
called ''the long Lent of 2002.''
Since The Courier-Journal published a story in mid-April about
the Rev. Louis E. Miller retiring amid allegations of past abuse,
200 plaintiffs have sued the Archdiocese of Louisville, alleging
sexual abuse by people connected with the church.
In all, the suits accuse 26 priests, two religious brothers, two
teachers and a volunteer elementary-school coach. Three priests
-- Miller and the Revs. Daniel C. Clark and James Hargadon -- are
awaiting trial on criminal charges. Eight archdiocesan priests and
two pastors from religious orders have been permanently barred from
And Lexington Bishop J. Kendrick Williams resigned
in June over abuse allegations dating from when he was a priest
in the Archdiocese of Louisville.
All three of the smaller dioceses in Kentucky -- Lexington, Covington
and Owensboro -- also face lawsuits, as do the Archdiocese of Indianapolis
and a Floyd County, Ind.-based province of Conventual Franciscans.
''It is tragic, what we've experienced here in Kentucky,'' said
Jane Chiles, former director of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky,
the lobbying group for Kentucky's bishops, and now a member of the
National Review Board set up by bishops to monitor their handling
of the abuse issue.
''Every time I think it's over, it starts up again,'' said Louisville
Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly in an interview Dec. 13, the day he removed
a parish pastor for the fourth time this year. ''I would like for
it all to be over, but on the other hand, (for) people who are real
victims, I want them to get the healing they deserve.''
Although the archdiocese says it's too early to determine the financial
impact of the crisis, it has imposed a hiring freeze beginning tomorrow.
''My impression is a number of our parishes are facing economic
challenges that they haven't faced in more recent years,'' said
Brian Reynolds, chancellor and chief administrative officer of the
''How much is attributed to the sexabuse crisis, how much to the
economy, how much to increased costs elsewhere, I can't measure.
All charities, including the church, are feeling the impact of smaller
contributions this year.''
Plaintiffs in the abuse cases say 2002 will be remembered as the
year they felt they finally could go public -- and be believed.
''They've been able to gain support from each other in coming out
with their stories,'' said Karen Mouser of New Haven, Ky., one of
10 women to bring accusations against former Louisville archdiocese
priest Robert Bowling, now on leave in the Diocese of Reno in Nevada.
''They know they're not alone.''
Louisville native Ron Landry, one of 78 plaintiffs accusing Miller
of abuse, said the lawsuits have forced Catholic bishops to deal
with abuse issues openly.
''What we're doing now is the only thing that's got the church's
attention,'' he said.
What has made these cases especially volatile is the mixture of
sexual and spiritual abuse, according to alleged victims, who have
told of being abused in sacristies, rectories and confessionals.
Two-thirds of the Archdiocese of Louisville plaintiffs surveyed
by The Courier-Journal in September said they were no longer practicing
Catholics -- and most of those said it's because of abuse by priests.
''Because they were in such authority in the Catholic Church, they
were the basis of everything we believed,'' said Mouser.
Similar tales were told across the country.
''In abusing their child victims . . . priests invoked sacraments,
their own exalted status, the cult of sacred secrecy, and the wrath
of God,'' wrote Boston Globe columnist James Carroll, a former priest,
in his new book, ''Toward a New Catholic Church.''
''In addition to all else, their assaults were acts of blasphemy,''
Meanwhile, innocent priests say they've been tainted with guilt
by association, their thin ranks stretched further as they filled
in for those removed from ministry.
''They're already overburdened, and this, of course, has made some
things tougher,'' said Kelly. ''And we're suffering from a dearth
of vocations. That can be very discouraging.
''It takes a lot of supernatural hope to deal with that sort of
thing, but I find that virtue in our priests,'' he added.
In an essay last summer in America, a national Catholic magazine,
Louisville priest Ron Knott wrote of nightmares and stress that
were the worst he has experienced in a 32-year career.
Knott, assigned to recruit young men to the priesthood, wrote that
this ''hard job suddenly seems impossible.'' He said he even found
himself once covering his Roman collar with his hand while stopped
at a traffic light.
''But I have also felt a surge of hope,'' he wrote. ''My source
of hope comes from the pews, when I share the Scriptures and break
the bread with faithful Catholics.''
Reynolds said the archdiocese is determined to show similar resilience,
even amid the time-consuming process of defending against the lawsuits.
The archdiocese has appointed a review board, made up mostly of
lay people, to advise Kelly on abuse accusations.
The archdiocese also is revising its policies to conform with the
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' pledge in June to bar abusers
from ministry. It is organizing support groups and education sessions
for parishes, Reynolds said.
Nationally, Chiles said the church is also launching a study of
how pervasive the abuse problem has been and how churches can best
prevent abuse in the future.
Mouser said any help for victims is welcome, although she noted,
''It will take longer than a year to gain back the confidence of
Susan Archibald, president of The Linkup, a Louisville-based national
advocacy group for victims, said dioceses' responses have been mixed
across the country.
''Some bishops get it right, and some don't get it at all,'' she
said, but with pressure from an outraged laity and the legal system,
''change in the church will come either voluntarily or not.''
Chiles lamented that the church's moral credibility on social policy
issues has been compromised.
''I don't want to say we have lost all of that, but certainly it
has eroded,'' she said, adding that the bishops will only regain
that trust through their actions.
Kelly, the former general secretary of the national bishops' conference,
recalled that when bishops made policy statements on nuclear arms
and economic issues in the 1980s, people listened.
''So when I see it now, I grieve,'' he said, citing how little
attention people paid last month when the bishops cautioned against
an invasion of Iraq.
Much of the crisis in the coming year will play out in court.
Miller, Clark and Hargadon have dates in criminal courts.
Though the filing of lawsuits has slowed to a trickle, lawyers
for the archdiocese and the plaintiffs will continue obtaining documents
and testimony in the pending cases.
Meanwhile, lay movements in some parts of the country will continue
to seek more of a decision-making role in a church where most power
still remains with bishops.
A group called Voice of the Faithful, launched in a suburban Boston
church basement last winter, has grown rapidly throughout the Northeast,
although it has hardly taken root in Louisville or elsewhere in
''I'm hoping it's because our faithful feel their voice is being
heard,'' Kelly said, noting that lay people hold many leadership
positions in parishes, schools and the archdiocese. But, he acknowledged:
''I should do more to listen.''
The Rev. Thomas Reese, editor of the national Catholic magazine
America, said some people will call for more bishops to follow Boston
Cardinal Bernard Law's example and resign, though he was skeptical
about how many would.
''The evidence is overwhelming that Law did a worse job than any
other bishop in the country,'' Reese said. ''Some bishops made mistakes,
but none were as egregious as Law.''
Kelly said he has no plans to resign.
''The present crisis, as painful as it is, is absolutely part of
my ministry,'' he said. ''Even though we are in great pain here,
I would never wish to withdraw from my ministry.''