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Diocese, Priest Settle Sex Abuse Case

Jan 7, 2003 | The Muskegon Chronicle

West Michigan Catholic leaders paid $75,000 last year to settle a local man's accusation that a priest molested him when he was a young adult.

The Rev. Richard Lawie, a parish priest at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Jenison, announced to parishioners on Sunday that he was involved in an "inappropriate" relationship with a man, but indicated it was consensual. The man did not pursue criminal charges.

The payment, part of a $90,000 settlement that included $15,000 from the priest is the only one confirmed by the Grand Rapids diocese that involves alleged sexual abuse of an adult. The diocese, which encompasses all of West Michigan, last year acknowledged paying more than $1 million in cases involving minors.

Lawie, 59, told parishioners about the settlement during his homily on Sunday. He made the disclosure to explain his side to parishioners, in anticipation of an article being prepared by The Grand Rapids Press.

David A. Hoogterp, now 38, of Grand Rapids, says he was in his early 20s when he sought spiritual advice from Lawie, who was assigned to a Holland-area parish. He says the priest invited him to spend the night at a Park Township rectory and, once there, sexually molested him three times.

Hoogterp said he was vulnerable and did not consent when the priest took advantage of him.

He said he is angry the diocese is allowing Lawie to serve as a parish priest, and said church leaders were more interested in protecting the diocese than helping him. Hoogterp also questioned why the diocese was so slow to react to his case.

Diocese officials confirmed Monday that Lawie told them in 1993 about an inappropriate relationship with a man, but no action was taken until Hoogterp asked several years ago for money to pay for counseling.

Hoogterp asked for $450,000, tuition to attend Aquinas College and a promise that Lawie never again work in a parish.

The settlement was reached last summer without a lawsuit being filed and despite the fact the two-year statute of limitations for civil assault cases long expired. The diocese did not admit wrongdoing, diocese attorney John Tully said.

Lawie's attorney, Miles Murphy III, said the priest "has not admitted any liability." Lawie, he said, "has been a very loyal priest in the diocese for a long time."

Bishop Robert Rose declined to take questions on the case.

Diocese spokeswoman Mary Haarman said she was not aware of any other incidents involving Lawie.

Lawie over the years "openly discussed the situation" with colleagues and members of the parish leadership, Haarman said.

But several parishioners Monday said they were shocked by Lawie's announcement Sunday.

"At this point in time, we're all trying to gather some information," said Barry Lutz, a member of the church's pastoral council. "It's quite newsworthy to all of us."

Some parishioners em-braced Lawie after the service, while others shook his hand and patted him on the back.

After the service, a long-time parishioner turned to her husband once they got in their car and said, "I am never going to discuss this with anyone again."

"I respect the man very much. I respect him as a human who can make mistakes," said the woman, who did not want to be named. "I don't want it to be the subject of conversation."

Hoogterp said his anger rekindled about two years ago when he learned Lawie was a parish priest in Jenison.

"I thought, 'Obviously, they don't believe me, they don't care about me. They just put him in another parish. OK, that's a slap in the face."'

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