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New Allegations of Church Sex Abuse

May 22, 2002 | AP A former altar boy has accused Lexington Bishop J. Kendrick Williams of abusing him 21 years ago, one of a dozen new lawsuits filed against the Archdiocese of Louisville alleging its priests sexually abused children.

James W. Bennett said he was 12 at the time of the alleged molestation. "I quit going to the church after it happened," he told The Associated Press on Tuesday night.

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

Bennett's lawsuit was one of 12 filed Tuesday against the archdiocese claiming the church leaders ignored complaints of sexual abuse made against priests. Eighty-seven lawsuits have now been filed against the archdiocese since April 19 by plaintiffs who claim they were sexually abused as children.

The plaintiffs say the archdiocese was aware of the abuse complaints but did not contact law enforcement agencies, according to the lawsuits.

"All the hush-hush is going to end. This is widespread. I hope these lawsuits revise the whole U.S. Catholic religion. This old church needs to be revised," Bennett said.

The 13 people who have been accused of abuse in the lawsuits are not named as defendants. One is a former teacher.

Bennett was not aware that Williams was currently a bishop in Lexington when he filed the lawsuit alleging the 1981 assault. The lawsuit only identified the priest as "Rev. Williams."

The Archdiocese of Louisville later confirmed that the accused priest is the current bishop in Lexington.

Bennett said the abuse occurred once while he was serving as an altar boy. Following the incident, Bennett told his father and stepmother.

"My father said I never had to go back, but my stepmother didn't believe me. She thought the world of Father Williams," he said.

One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuits filed Tuesday was Jim Strader, a local media personality.

Strader claims the Rev. Louis E. Miller sexually abused him while he was an altar boy in the late 1950s. Miller has been named in 36 of the total lawsuits pending against the archdiocese. The 71-year-old priest retired in March and has previously denied all the allegations.

"My primary reason for coming forward is for the other folks who have been victimized," Strader said Tuesday. "I think it's extremely important for the community at large to understand what a heinous crime pedophilia is."

In Chicago, meanwhile, public hearings across the diocese to help Cardinal Francis George draft a new policy against priest sex abuse turned contentious when some parishioners vented their anger.

"Our hierarchy is out of touch with the rest of us," said Patrick Dwyer at Holy Name parish in downtown Chicago, one of 30 parishes that held hearings Tuesday.

The hearings were meant to help George prepare for a meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops next month in Dallas. At that meeting bishops are to debate and set a national policy for handling sex-abuse allegations and punishing perpetrators.

"It's a killing of a soul," said Sue Stopka, who spoke at St. Edmunds in Oak Park. "Anyone who knows of abuse and doesn't do anything about it is just as guilty."

In other developments related to the church abuse scandal Tuesday:

A priest who served as the academic dean at a high school in Toledo, Ohio, was placed on leave following allegations of sexual misconduct with a student nearly 40 years ago.

St. Luke Institute, the Maryland psychiatric institution where a priest hanged himself last week, will tighten its suicide prevention methods in response to the suicide.

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