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More Sex Abuse Lawsuits Filed in Ky.

May 22, 2002 | AP Twelve lawsuits were filed Tuesday against the Archdiocese of Louisville alleging child sexual abuse by priests. Among them was a suit naming Lexington Bishop J. Kendrick Williams.

Williams is accused of abusing an altar boy in 1981 when he was a priest in Louisville.

Diocese spokesman Tom Shaughnessy said Tuesday night that neither Williams nor the Lexington diocese would comment until they had a chance to see the allegations.

The plaintiff, James W. Bennett, was 12 at the time of the alleged molestation. "I quit going to the church after it happened," he told The Associated Press Tuesday night. "I hope these lawsuits revise the whole U.S. Catholic religion."

Tuesday's lawsuits brought to 87 the number of suits filed against the archdiocese since April 19 by plaintiffs who claim they were sexually abused as children.

Last week, the archdiocese filed a motion in Jefferson Circuit Court to seal future lawsuits regarding abuse cases within the Catholic community. Attorneys cited a 1998 state law that says records regarding child sexual abuse should be sealed if they are more than 5 years old. Most of the recent accusations are more than 30 years old.

The suits — which all name the archdiocese but not individual priests as defendants — say the church was aware of the abuse but did not contact law enforcement or adequately reprimand the priests. A dozen priests or former priests are accused of abuse in the suits, and one, the Rev. Louis Miller, is accused in nearly half of them.

Critics, including an attorney for many of the plaintiffs, say the archdiocese is trying to cover up the abuse with its recent legal move.

"They shouldn't be sealed," lawyer William McMurry said. "There's no question about it. The plaintiffs are adults and have the right to tell their story."

A day after the archdiocese moved to seal the records, The Courier-Journal filed a motion to intervene. A judge approved the motion; a hearing on the archdiocese's motion is scheduled June 14.

The Louisville newspaper claims sealing the records would violate the plaintiffs' First Amendment rights. "That statute is being used to hurt these victims," said Jon. L. Fleischaker, attorney for the newspaper.

Brian Reynolds, chief administrative officer for the archdiocese, said the church wants records sealed to ensure confidentiality to any victims who may come forward in the future.

"We're following the law that presently exists under Kentucky statute," he said.

Since the lawsuits filed in April, two priests have resigned amid allegations of sexual abuse. Among the plaintiffs Tuesday was a local media personality.

"My primary reason for coming forward is for the other folks who have been victimized," Jim Strader, host of outdoors shows on Louisville cable TV and radio stations. "I think it's extremely important for the community at large to understand what a heinous crime pedophilia is."

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