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10 Join Abuse Suit Against Church

Clark judge says he was a victim of former priest

May 4, 2003 | The Courier-Journal

Ten people, including a Clark County judge, who claim they were sexually abused by a priest while attending St. Augustine Catholic Elementary School in Jeffersonville in the 1950s and 60s have joined a lawsuit a woman fil ed against the Archdiocese of Indianapolis last year.

The 11 plaintiffs allege they were abused by the Rev. Albert Deery, who died in 1972, according to Karl Truman, one of three attorneys for the plaintiffs.

They've asked the Clark Circuit Court to certify their suit as a class action, representing all who attended the school and parish between 1942 and 1972 "and who were subjected to tortuous and criminal actions by Father Albert Deery," according to the class-action petition.

The suit, which names Archbishop Daniel Buechlein as well as the archdiocese as defendants, contends the defendants "took no action to discipline or sanction Deery or to inform or warn the plaintiffs, their parents, or other students and parents that Deery was sexually abusing young women and men attending churches and schools served by Deery."

One of the additional plaintiffs in the suit is Clark County Superior Court Judge Steven Fleece, who was among five people who joined the case in December. Fleece said in an interview yesterday that he initially did not intend to join the suit filed by a woman known in court documents by the pseudonym Jane Doe.

"There was a bit of prayer involved," in his decision to come forward Fleece said. He finally decided that "maybe me joining that would keep other people from feeling intimidated about coming forward."

In court documents, Fleece described what he alleges is an incident of abuse he suffered when he was about 9 years old in the church sacristy while serving as an altar boy in about 1959.

"Deery ordered me to sit on his lap. He ran his hand over my legs, genitals and chest. He twisted my nipples, put his mouth over my ear and inserted his tongue in my ear," Fleece said in response to written questions by lawyers for the archdiocese.

In yesterday's interview, he said of his fellow plaintiffs, "It's been sort of like a class reunion in a way. There's several of the people that I knew and was in school with."

Fleece, who has since become an Episcopalian, also said, "I feel like this is a positive thing for the Catholic community to have this cleansing."

The answers Fleece and other plaintiffs provided to defense attorneys in February give the first details of the alleged abuse.

Plaintiff Ronald Meadows, an electrician who lives in Prospect, Ky., said in written answers to questions from the archdiocese's lawyers that he was abused by Deery when he was 6 to 10 years old. "Father Deery would come and get me out of class or off the playground and take me to the rectory" where the priest lived, Meadows wrote, according to the court file.

"I performed oral sex on Father Deery and Father Deery performed oral on me. Father Deery also committed anal sodomy on me with his finger, and there was mutual fondling by hand both ways," according to the court file.

Meadows claims the abuse took place on a weekly basis. "I eventually set the gym on fire in an effort to get thrown out of St. Augustine School," he told the lawyers. "That worked and I was transferred to" another school.

Lawyers for both sides are due in court tomorrow for a hearing on a motion by the archdiocese to force the plaintiffs to provide more information.

Greg Otolski, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said yesterday that the church has no comment on the suits.

Meadows told defense lawyers that he wasn't aware that others had allegedly been abused until he read about the suit filed by Jane Doe last September .

The suit claims Jane Doe was abused by Deery from first grade through eighth grade at St. Augustine. While in first grade, Doe "reported the sexual abuse &elipse; to one or more nuns at the school and was rebuked and publicly scorned by the nuns for making false allegations," according to the complaint.

In the years since, according to the suit, Jane Doe told her story to three priests, including to the Rev. Louis Miller. Miller is the same priest who pleaded guilty in Jefferson Circuit Court in late March to 50 criminal charges, involving abuse with 21 children in Louisville. In addition, Miller and has been named in more than 80 sexual abuse lawsuits against the Archdiocese of Louisville.

Lonnie Cooper, one of the lawyers in the Deery case, said the revelations about Miller played a big part in convincing Jane Doe that she would have to reach outside the church to the courts to get justice.


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