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Officials Say Priest Sex Abuse Suit Settled To Ease Pain

Feb 22, 2003 | San Antonio Express The Archdiocese of San Antonio settled a sexual misconduct lawsuit to spare the plaintiff, her sons and other witnesses the pain of testifying publicly, church officials said Friday.

The church officials also reiterated a lawyer's assertion that the lawsuit was about money, and Archbishop Patrick Flores asserted that the plaintiff's own sins damaged her faith as much as Father Michael Kenny's sins did.

The $18 million lawsuit by Julia Villegas Phelps was settled Thursday afternoon for $300,000 while Flores was testifying on the trial's second day.

"We believe we could have won this case, but it would have been a bruising and hurtful trial to the individuals involved, as was evident in the examinations of Bishop (Thomas) Flanagan and Archbishop Flores and in the examination of subsequent witnesses for the plaintiff and defense," said Monsignor Lawrence Stuebben, the archdiocese's vicar general.

He said the church and Catholics in general also would have suffered.

But the plaintiff's attorney said the settlement spared the archdiocese damaging public testimony by Kenny that would have cast doubt on Flores' claims that he knew nothing about the priest's wayward activities.

Phelps will continue her suit in the Catholic Church's highest court in Vatican City to have Flores removed from office for failing to monitor Kenny. That claim was filed in March 2002. It may not be acted on since Flores will reach retirement age (75) in July 2004.

"Mrs. Phelps feels vindicated. She's really happy it's over and that our canon law case is untouched," Doug Sutter, Phelps' attorney, said Friday.

Phelps claimed that Kenny, her onetime pastor at Resurrection Parish, forced her to have sex with him in front of her two minor sons in her home in 1989 during a four-year relationship.

Kenny, who was suspended from priestly functions in mid-2000, now works as a layman in his native Ireland. He has admitted to having sex with Phelps and other women and to fathering two children, but he denied Phelps' sons witnessed his sexual intercourse with her.

Stuebben said the lawsuit was about money because Sutter dropped Kenny from the case, leaving the archdiocese the sole defendant.

"All admit that (Kenny) was the one who failed," Stuebben said. "All know that he does not have any money."

Sutter said he dropped Kenny from the suit after the former priest agreed to testify that his relationships with women had been common knowledge around the parish, that he had told at least six other priests of his sexual activities, that he had brought Phelps' allegations to Flores' attention in August 1993 and that Flores didn't want to know about the relationship or any other women.

Flores reiterated that he learned of Kenny's sexual misconduct only when another woman, Jerrilynn Marie White, accused the priest in mid-2000 and Kenny admitted some of the allegations. Kenny was suspended immediately.

Asked about Phelps' and White's claims that the archdiocese's handling of their complaints had damaged their faith, Flores said that their sexual relations with Kenny were consensual, and that their own actions were partly to blame for the loss of faith, too.

"Sin always affects our faith, and they were sinning for all those years," Flores said. "They were not babies. Why didn't they tell us about it when it happened?"

Flores said Friday that he'll solicit donations and expects to raise the $300,000 within a month.

"It's not going to come from the annual appeal or from the collections taken in the churches every Sunday," Flores said.

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