4 claim priest abuse in Detroit suit
Class-action status against archdiocese sought
By Kim Kozlowski, Detroit News,
May 13, 2004
Four men alleging sexual abuse by local Catholic priests
filed a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Detroit Wednesday,
arguing the church failed to take steps to protect them, when
they were children, and other youngsters.
Attorneys representing the men are asking the court to certify
the lawsuit as a class-action suit, meaning others could join
and the court would deal only with the issues common to all
members of the class. It is believed to be the first suit
in Michigan seeking class-action status stemming from the
sex abuse scandal.
The archdiocese reacted by characterizing the press conference
called to announce the lawsuit as a ploy to raise the profile
of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), a
nonprofit victims group supporting the four men. SNAP retorted
that it wouldn't be exposing priests if the church hadn't
covered up and moved the clergymen from parish to parish for
"The purpose is to expose perpetrators so that other
victims who have been harmed can know they are not alone,
and it is safe to come forward," said Barbara Blaine,
SNAP founder, who held a press conference Wednesday outside
the Wayne County Circuit Court with other alleged victims.
"The church should be grateful we are exposing the evil
that has festered in the church for decades."
The suit aims to primarily hold the archdiocese responsible
for conspiracy, said Southfield attorney Justin Ravitz. But
it names 16 priests as co-conspirators.
* The Rev. C. Richard Kelly, Jr., who allegedly abused
former altar boy Timothy Hassett when Hassett was in third
grade at St. Mary in Redford. In February, the archdiocese
placed Kelly on leave from St. Thomas a'Becket Parish in Canton
Township because of an allegation of sexual misconduct from
the early years of his ministry. Kelly vehemently denied the
allegation in a letter to parishioners.
* The Rev. Lawrence Edwards, reportedly now dead, allegedly
abused an anonymous Troy man when he was 10 while at St. Mary
* The Rev. Thomas Physician, who allegedly abused William
Johnson between the ages of 14-17 when Johnson was a parishioner
at Precious Blood in Detroit. The archdiocese placed Physician,
who was retired, on administrative leave Jan. 3.
* The Rev. Robert Burkholder, who allegedly abused
John Fruciano beginning at age 10 when Burkholder was at St.
Mary in Wayne. Burkholder spent 30 days in jail in 2002 for
sexual misconduct in the 1980s.
Hassett, 41, who for years used drugs and alcohol to cope,
said he is proceeding with the lawsuit "to make sure
this doesn't happen to anyone else.
"The main reason is to help other people like me to come
and get help," he said. "I was afraid to for years."
The suit comes decades after the alleged incidents of abuse
in local churches, but following other high-profile payouts
across the country.
Lawsuits against other dioceses related to the sex abuse scandal
have resulted in hefty payouts: The Archdiocese of Louisville,
Ky., last summer agreed to pay $25.7 million to 243 people.
The Archdiocese of Boston in September agreed to pay the largest
settlement so far: $85 million to more than 550 people.
By contrast, the Archdiocese of Detroit reported earlier this
year that it had paid $1.4 million to victims since 1950.
A class-action lawsuit, however, could increase that amount.
Archdiocese of Detroit spokesman Ned McGrath said he had not
seen the lawsuit, but in a prepared statement, he was critical
of SNAP's publicizing of the lawsuit.
"The approach utilized in the filing of this case does
appear to be consistent with what SNAP and the attorneys working
for them have employed elsewhere around the country: a class-action
lawsuit heightens the profile of the advocacy group and at
the same time identifies potential clients," McGrath
He added that the archdiocese began working with local prosecutors
two years ago, and it was commended for its handling of clergy
sex abuse cases.
"We have been forthcoming," McGrath said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. You can
reach Kim Kozlowski at (313) 222-2024 or firstname.lastname@example.org.