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9 More Suits Filed Against Archdiocese

Oct 24, 2002 | The Courier-Journal Nine more plaintiffs filed lawsuits yesterday against the Archdiocese of Louisville, alleging they were sexually abused by priests, a Franciscan brother and a volunteer football coach.

The latest lawsuits raise to 195 the total filed against the Roman Catholic archdiocese since April in Jefferson Circuit Court. The plaintiffs allege sexual abuse by 31 people connected with the church, including 26 priests.

One of the new lawsuits accuses a priest not previously named the Rev. Henry G. Vessels, who died in 1980 at age 55. The plaintiff, Roger D. Kelty, alleges that Vessels molested him when he was about 12 years old in 1969 and 1970, when Vessels was pastor at St. Francis Xavier Church in Mount Washington.

Kelty alleged in his suit that the priest took him to ''pornographic drive-in movies on several occasions, and, on one occasion, when the plaintiff spent the night with Vessels, Vessels forcibly sexually molested'' him.

Cecelia Price, spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said church records show ''no indication of any complaints'' against Vessels.

Vessels was born in 1925 and ordained in 1950, according to archdiocesan records.

In the 1950s, he served as an associate pastor at Holy Trinity Church and as a teacher at Flaget and Trinity high schools. He served as an associate pastor at St. Raphael between 1959 and 1966 and as temporary administrator at Holy Name of Mary in Calvary, Ky., in 1966. He then worked as a pastor at St. Francis Xavier from 1966 to 1972, at St. Andrew in Harrodsburg and at St. Lawrence in Lawrenceburg from 1972 to 1974, and at St. Paul Church in Louisville from 1974 until his death.

William McMurry, the lead attorney in the litigation against the archdiocese, filed the latest lawsuits yesterday. Price, the archdiocesan spokeswoman, said she could not comment on any of the pending suits.

Two of the lawsuits name an order of Conventual Franciscans based in Floyd County, Ind., as a co-defendant. Both of those lawsuits allege abuse by a former friar, Brother Francis Dominic -- one alleged incident at Our Lady of Consolation Church in Louisville and another at a retreat house in Prior Lake, Minn., where Dominic was transferred around 1974.

One plaintiff, Timothy E. Chesser, alleged he was abused by Dominic in 1973 and 1974, while Dominic was assigned to Our Lady of Consolation and Chesser was in the second grade there. Four other men have filed suit alleging abuse by Dominic at the parish.

Plaintiff Kevin J. Rowley alleged that ''as a result of notice of Dominic's abuse of children in Louisville, Dominic was transferred to a retreat house in Prior Lake, Minn., where, on three occasions, he forcibly sexually molested'' Rowley, who was then about 16 or 17.

McMurry contended that the Archdiocese of Louisville and the Franciscans are both responsible for Dominic's conduct in Minnesota, alleging that their officials knew of his conduct in Louisville and failed to alert police. Both organizations have, in court records, denied that.

Brother Bob Baxter, spokesman for the Franciscan province based at Mount St. Francis, Ind., said he could not comment on pending litigation but said there had been no previous allegations concerning Dominic's conduct at Prior Lake.

The Franciscans say Dominic worked in the Consolation province between 1969 and 1980 before transferring to a Chicago-based province and then leaving the order in 1989. Dominic, whose birth name was Anthony Salomone, could not be reached for comment.

In all, 17 of the plaintiffs suing the archdiocese have alleged abuse by Conventual Franciscan clerics who worked in Louisville Dominic and two priests. McMurry has named the province as a co-defendant in four of those cases.

Four of the lawsuits filed yesterday allege abuse by retired priest Louis E. Miller, who is now named in 74 lawsuits and 57 criminal charges. Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly has barred Miller from future ministry.

Among the four plaintiffs naming Miller yesterday are two relatives of the priests, bringing the number of alleged victims in his family to six.

Patricia Miller Story, a niece of the priest, alleged that Miller molested her in 1968, while Janice Mudd Grinestaff, a cousin in the Miller family, alleged that he abused her in 1971.

Henry Asman alleged that Miller abused him at Holy Spirit Church in the early 1960s, when Asman was an altar boy. Twenty-eight plaintiffs have alleged that Miller abused them at Holy Spirit.

Daniel J. Schadt alleged that Miller molested him around 1977 or 1978, when he was an altar boy at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church, where Miller was pastor. Twelve pending lawsuits allege that Miller abused children at that parish.

Miller denied some of the initial allegations in lawsuits naming him, but he and his lawyer have since declined to comment. Miller has also pleaded innocent to all of the criminal charges against him.

In the other two lawsuits filed yesterday:

Kenneth J. Boehnlein alleged that the late Rev. Arthur L. Wood abused him between 1962 and 1965, when he was between 11 and 14 years old and attending St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church, where Wood was then assigned. In all, 35 plaintiffs allege abuse by Wood in the 1960s and 1970s. Wood died in 1983 at age 59.

Joseph P. Thomas alleged that Louis Holzknecht molested him around 1967, when Thomas was in the seventh and eighth grades at Most Blessed Sacrament School and Holzknecht was a volunteer coach there. Holzknecht, 60, a retired postal worker, pleaded guilty in September to charges of sexually abusing two boys and received a 40-year prison sentence.

In language mirroring all of the other lawsuits, yesterday's complaints said the archdiocese and the Franciscans knew that the accused people were abusers but covered up the fact and failed to report the abuse to authorities.

The archdiocese and the Franciscans have denied any cover-up in responses to earlier lawsuits.

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