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Alabama Priest On Leave As Women's Claims Reviewed

Sep 25, 2002 | AP A Roman Catholic priest was placed on leave while the church investigates a claim that he inappropriately touched a woman more than 25 years ago.

The action was taken at the request of the Rev. Kevin Cooke, pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church.

A woman now in her 40s has claimed Cooke had inappropriate contact with her when she was 14, according to a story published Wednesday in the TimesDaily, a Florence newspaper. The priest was in seminary at the time.

Bishop David Foley met with the woman Sept. 1.

"We don't want to do anything to hurt the father's reputation, but we still will do a thorough appraisal," Foley said in a statement. "We're not going to cover up anything, and we're going to be as open as possible.

Cooke, who was assigned to the parish in July 2001, has denied hurting any child, according to Foley.

Foley said he hoped to conclude a review by Nov. 1, but added there were "some discrepancies that must be resolved as part of the inquiry process."

Foley did not elaborate in a statement, and a secretary said he was out of the office Wednesday.

Derick Franck, co-chairman of parish counsel, said other members support Cooke and want him back.

"He is an excellent man and an excellent priest," he said. "We all think very highly of father Kevin. We're behind him 100 percent, and we remain hopeful he will be cleared soon and resume his duties."

At least 300 U.S. priests have been removed from their ministries since reports of sexual abuse among clergy began rocking the American church in January.

In May, Foley suspended another Alabama priest accused of molesting at least four men when they were teenage boys about 40 years ago. The priest, Charles V. Cross, denied any wrongdoing and retired in June.

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