Archive for Friday, January 23, 2004

Lawsuit alleges sexual abuse by K.C. priests

Three clerics, including retired bishop, are plaintiffs

January 23, 2004

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— A retired Catholic bishop, a retired priest and a former priest are accused in a lawsuit filed Wednesday of molesting minors from the Kansas City area.

Among those named in the lawsuit is Joseph Hart, who was a priest in Kansas City before he became a bishop in Wyoming, a job from which he is now retired. The other defendants are Thomas J. O'Brien, a retired priest who served for a time as principal of St. Pius X High School and later became diocesan superintendent of schools, and Thomas M. Reardon, who served five area parishes and was administrator of a youth camp before leaving the priesthood in 1989.

Nine men, six of them anonymous, are plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which alleges a series of abuses at a lake home north of Kansas City or in church facilities, often after liquor was given to the minors. The suit alleges that most of the abuse took place from the 1960s through the 1980s.

Also named as defendants are the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and its current leaders, Bishop Raymond Boland and Vicar General Patrick Rush. The suit said the diocese failed to monitor its priests.

Hart, ordained in 1976 as bishop of the Diocese of Cheyenne, Wyo., retired in 2001. He has denied previous allegations against him and issued another statement of denial on Wednesday through his Kansas City attorney, Larry Ward.

"The allegations in this lawsuit against me are baseless," Hart said. "I am confident I will be dismissed from this lawsuit in the near future."

Answering the door Wednesday at his Kansas City home, Reardon said, "I'm sorry. I can't say anything. I just talked to an attorney."

Rush, the diocesan vicar general, said the diocese had not yet seen the suit and could not comment on it. He said the diocese had investigated past complaints against all three men.

"As the tragedy of child abuse has come to light, the diocese continues to pledge accountability," Rush said in a statement. "Priests who abuse children are removed from the ministry and eventually dismissed from the priesthood."

The diocese has attempted to review all past allegations of sexual abuse as part of a report required of all dioceses by the U.S. Conference of Bishops. Two weeks ago, the diocese reported having found 35 complaints involving 20 priests in the past 50 years.

Reardon is specifically accused of abuse by six of the nine plaintiffs, O'Brien by five and Hart by three.

Rebecca Randles, the attorney representing the nine men, held a news conference outside the diocesan chancery office.

"We have a cabal of priests who together and separately engaged in sexual abuse and molestation of children for in excess of 30 years," she said. "We needed to include all these plaintiffs so you could see the extent and duration of abuse these poor children suffered."

Among the plaintiffs is Michael Hunter, leader of the Kansas City chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP). He said that while he was not actually a victim of abuse himself, he suffered emotionally from abuse that he said Hart inflicted on his brother, Kevin Hunter, who died in 1989.

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