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Priest's Abuse of Children Was Known For Years

Records paint a disturbing portrait of Daniel C. Clark's addiction to child sex and the church's response to it.

May 4, 2003 | The Courier-Journal

As a seminary student at Cincinnati's Mount St. Mary's, the Rev. Daniel C. Clark ranked last in his class after his first year, and faculty later described him as ''very much of a loner.''

But Clark seemed to have one gift, according to his evaluations: He was great with children.

''His way with youths was really an asset to our parish,'' wrote Robert Sonntag, a church leader in Aurora, Ind., where Clark worked with Boy Scouts and other children in 1978, before he was ordained.

It was Clark's attraction to children, however, that ultimately destroyed his priesthood and damaged the lives of young parishioners, many of whom had turned to him for counsel.

In lawsuits filed against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville, Clark, 55, is accused of molesting 19 children ages 5 to 17.

Convicted in 1988 of sodomizing one boy and sexually abusing another, Clark also faces 60 years to life in prison if found guilty of new criminal charges alleging he abused two other boys from 1998 until last May.

He has pleaded innocent; a trial is scheduled to begin June 24 in Bullitt Circuit Court. Clark, who now wears an orange jail jumpsuit instead of his clerical collar, has been held in the Bullitt County Detention Center since his arrest Aug. 7, unable to make his $500,000 bail.

Clark, who was removed from all ministry last summer but remains a priest, declined to talk with a reporter, as did his lawyer, David Lambertus.

But records surrendered by the archdiocese including Clark's 373-page personnel file and 20 years of correspondence with Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly paint a disturbing portrait of the priest's addiction to sex with children and the archdiocese's response to it. The records show that:

* Archdiocesan officials twice talked with Clark about voluntarily leaving the priesthood -- once before his 1988 conviction ''because of his past record'' of molesting children, and once after. But when Clark balked both times, Kelly declined to petition the Vatican to defrock him.

* Despite knowing Clark had told his psychiatrist in 1986 that he wouldn't assign himself to a parish because ''the risk is too great,'' Kelly assigned him the next year to serve as a part-time pastor at SS Simon & Jude church. Clark also was allowed to fill in regularly as a weekend substitute at other parishes.

The archdiocese also assigned Clark in 1986 to live with the Holy Cross Brothers, despite concerns he might abuse students at Holy Cross High School, which shares the campus. ''We will make it quite clear that he is not to be involved with the high school in any way,'' the archdiocese's clergy personnel director wrote to Clark's psychiatrist. ''But is he capable of keeping such a commitment?''

* Immediately after his 1988 conviction, Clark confided to Kelly that he was ''terrified of doing it again.'' But while Clark was removed from public ministry upon his arrest and never again assigned to a parish, over the next 14 years he was allowed to volunteer his services to numerous organizations.

The archdiocese said it relied on Clark to tell the groups he volunteered with about the restrictions on his ministry, including that he was barred from working with children.

But representatives of several groups, including volunteer fire departments, ham radio organizations and the local Department for Disaster and Emergency Services, said they didn't know of his record or the restrictions they just knew him as ''Father Dan.''

Citing in part the pending litigation, the archdiocese's chancellor and chief administrative officer, Brian Reynolds, declined to respond to questions about Clark and how the church dealt with him. Other priests mentioned in the files declined to comment or didn't return a reporter's calls.

''In the past year we have all heard so many new reports from people telling they were abused by Fr. Clark,'' Reynolds said in a brief statement by e-mail. ''Their stories are tragic and painful.

''I wish no child ever had to experience any form of abuse, especially by a member of the clergy,'' Reynolds said. ''In hindsight it is easy to say the church should have seen more or acted sooner.''

'A LOT OF BAD THINGS'

Clark said his pastor molested him as a child

Daniel Cooper Clark's mother was Catholic, his father was not, and he wasn't baptized in the faith until 12 years after he was born on a farm in Winchester, Ind., in 1948.

He would later tell one of his victims, according to court records, that ''there was just a lot of bad things going on in my childhood.'' The records also show Clark would later tell one of his victims, as well as Kelly, that he was molested in his childhood by his own pastor.

When Clark decided to pursue ministry as a young man, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis sponsored him, then dropped him for unexplained reasons while he was pursuing his undergraduate degree at St. Meinrad.

Later, at Mount St. Mary's, where he was sponsored by the Archdiocese of Louisville, Clark nearly flunked out. Scott Andrew, a classmate and longtime friend who eventually left the priesthood and is now a family therapist, said Clark wasn't ''bookwise'' and liked to drink and party more than study.

Clark would be diagnosed in the 1980s as ''cross-addicted to sex and alcohol.''

In 1980, the faculty at Mount St. Mary's refused to recommend him for ordination, but the Louisville archdiocese interceded on his behalf. ThenArchbishop Thomas McDonough had said in a 1978 memo that Clark ''meets people well, he is concerned, he is involved and he is interested.''

In 1979, the archdiocese's vocational director reminded seminary officials that the Vatican had ordered seminaries to cooperate with dioceses in producing priests, and said, ''This report is meant to suggest (Clark's) readiness to be approved for major orders.''

''They were desperate for bodies,'' said Monsignor Lawrence Breslin, the seminary's former rector, who said he remembered Clark as ''immature'' and unimpressive.

Eventually, the seminary allowed Clark to graduate, and he was ordained on May 24, 1980.

He was assigned to St. Rita on Preston Highway, and a month later began complaining in memos to the archdiocese that his $467 in salary and stipends left him unable to repay student loans or even leave the parish on his days off.

''As a result,'' he wrote five months after becoming a priest, ''I am experiencing a burned-out feeling.''

Within a year, he had molested his first victim at St. Rita, he admitted later in court. Thirteen plaintiffs contend in lawsuits against the archdiocese that they also were abused by Clark when he was at St. Rita.

They include Paul Barrett, who said he was 16 when he went to see Clark for counseling after his parents' divorce. ''I reached out my hand to him for help, and he bit me like an old dog,'' said Barrett, now 38.

Barrett alleges that Clark fondled and later masturbated him under the guise that girls were interested in him and would want to touch him, and that the priest could ''help me through it.''

Barrett says he tried to report Clark to the church's pastor, but another priest, now dead, told him to ''leave the church premises.''

Another plaintiff, Brian J. Weatherbee, said he told his mother in June 1981, when he was 13, that Clark, after luring him to his apartment, stuck his hand in Weatherbee's underpants while consoling him for breaking a vase.

Harriet Ann Weatherbee testified in a deposition last year that she reported her son's allegation to St. Rita's pastor, the Rev. Vincent Schweizer, on July 3, 1981, and that Schweizer assured her that it had been reported to the archdiocese.

At least one other parent reported Clark to Schweizer for allegedly molesting his son, Schweizer acknowledged in a deposition last year. Schweizer said he referred the man to the archdiocese, but never followed up, taking Clark's word that he had been referred for counseling.

Clark later pleaded guilty in Jefferson Circuit Court to molesting two children at St. Rita, including an 11year-old whom he called out of class about a week after the boy's brother was killed.

Other plaintiffs who have filed suit against the archdiocese allege that Clark molested them at St. Rita under the guise of helping expel their evil spirits, checking them for ''nerves'' and curing stomach aches.

NEW ASSIGNMENTS

Sex, marijuana use reportedly continued

In June 1982, about a year after allegations about Clark reportedly were made to the archdiocese, Kelly who had recently been installed as archbishop transferred Clark to another parish, St. Dominic in Springfield, Ky.

''I know that you will bring great zeal and fidelity to this assignment,'' Kelly told Clark in a letter, ''and I am equally confident that you will be well-received by the people you are to serve.''

St. Dominic parishioner John Willis Grider, then 17, would later say the newly ordained Clark appealed to him because he drove a Jeep, drank at a local bar and was relatively young.

Grider was sent by his mother to Clark for counseling because, according to court papers, the boy had been drinking, smoking pot and having problems in school.

''We had a few beers, and Clark produced a green, tin lock box containing marijuana, rolling papers and pipes,' Grider said in court papers, describing his first counseling session in the summer of 1982.

''After a few hits of marijuana, Clark said he would teach me some relaxation exercises in his bedroom upstairs. Clark massaged my chest and subsequently loosened my belt and unzipped my jeans.''

Grider said that after Clark fondled and sodomized him, he walked home and told his mother, who reported it to St. Dominic's pastor, the Rev. James T. Blandford. Blandford said in an interview that neither parishioners nor Kelly ever told him about any improper conduct involving Clark.

Clark, however, apologized to Grider, according to an Oct. 18, 1982, letter addressed ''Dear John'' that is now in Clark's personnel file:

''I ask for forgiveness for the anxiety I may have caused you,'' Clark wrote. ''John, I am most sincere when I say I beg your forgiveness I trust now in the Lord.''

On April 6, 1983, Clark began seeing a psychiatrist, Dr. Robert O'Connor, for ''emotional illness,'' according to records from the archdiocese, which paid for the counseling.

Two months later, Kelly transferred Clark to St. John Vianney parish on Southside Drive, where over three years he allegedly abused four boys, according to suits pending against the archdiocese.

While at St. John Vianney, Clark also befriended a Bullitt County woman, Geraldine Henry, who had four children, two of them boys. Clark would take the family food, money and toys, and take the boys, John and Ralph, on fishing trips, recalled April Divine, one of Geraldine Henry's daughters.

''We looked at him as a father figure, because we didn't have one,'' Divine said in an interview.

She said Clark began a relationship with her mother, once promising to leave the church and marry her. But eventually, Ralph and John would confide in their mother that Clark had molested them, according to Divine and lawsuits both men have filed against the archdiocese.

Divine said her mother, who has lost her voice box to cancer and cannot talk, now believes Clark was only interested in her sons.

Divine said her mother told Clark to stay away after her sons' revelations, but after Clark apologized in writing and assured her that he'd undergone treatment, she allowed him to visit again.

''Everybody thought he was a changed man,'' Ralph Henry told a Shepherdsville Police Department detective last year. ''I mean he wears a collar of God.''

SCANDAL FORESEEN

Pastor told archbishop of ongoing problems

Clark's involvement with Geraldine Henry was no secret to the archdiocese, its records show. Nor was his interest in her sons. In a July 1985 letter to Kelly, St. John Vianney's pastor, the Rev. James J. Lichtefeld Sr., said: ''John Henry's mother's name is Geraldine and since he goes over there often it could be that she is the Gerri that he is infatuated with. However, the evening he talked about John Henry he made it clear that it was not . John's mother, that he was interested in.''

Lichtefeld also wrote that Clark had mentioned his ''involvement with some high school boys when he was at St. Rita's.''

Lichtefeld complained that Clark was ''just going through the motions with Mass'' and ''not praying,'' and that he was drinking often and early in the day. Urging Kelly to grant Clark a leave of absence, Lichtefeld concluded: ''I do know that he doesn't and can't operate as a priest and he knows it too. If he stays here and continues as he is, he will be causing scandal.''

Kelly granted the leave, noting in a memo that he approved it because of Clark's relationship with Geraldine Henry, his lack of enthusiasm for preaching and his ''continued starving for attention.''

When Clark returned to the archdiocese, his psychiatrist offered a bleak prognosis to the Rev. William L. Fichteman, the archdiocese clergy personnel director.

''Dr. O'Connor has seen very little progress in Dan and believes that he is, for the most part, in a state of denial of his situation,'' Fichteman said in a May 1986 memo. ''Instead of relating priest to people, he still relates to people in categories such as son to parent, intimate friend, etc. Thus, he forms relationships with people which are inappropriate for a priest.''

Fichteman also expressed reservations about Clark's return to active ministry.

''We are concerned that he is simply ineffective as a priest and has nothing to offer a parish,'' Fichteman wrote. ''This perception is affirmed by the fact that three or four pastors who have been approached about Dan coming to their parishes have said, 'Absolutely not!' ''

Fichteman added that Clark when asked by his psychiatrist to reverse roles and say where he should be assigned ''finally said he would not assign himself to a parish. The risk would be too great.''

Fichteman said O'Connor rejected the idea that Clark request laicization, or removal from the priesthood. ''There is no way Dan could function as a lay person,'' O'Connor said, according to Fichteman's memo.

The records show Clark worked on Kelly to salvage his priesthood.

''Perhaps it sounds strange, but I would like to experience death as a priest of the Lord,'' Clark wrote the archbishop in June 1986.

After ''careful consideration,'' Kelly allowed Clark to work as chaplain at the old Highlands Baptist Hospital and in 1987 assigned him as a parttime pastor at SS Simon & Jude.

He was serving there and living at the Passionist Monastery on Newburg Road when one of his victims from St. Rita called him on June 14, 1988 in a conversation recorded by detectives from the local Crimes Against Children Unit.

''Did you really care, or were you using me?'' asked the victim, then 18.

''No, I really cared and I still do,'' Clark said. ''I prayed for you a lot. I still do.''

''Then why did you do it?'' the teenager asked.

''Because I was sick I was very mentally ill, which is obvious and no one in their right mind would do something like that.''

Clark was arrested nine days later. Kelly passed on that news to his fellow priests by letter.

''One of our brother priests has been arraigned on charges of child abuse,'' Kelly wrote. ''Our first concern must be with those who made these charges. At the same time, I have offered to Father Dan Clark our prayerful and fraternal support.''

Kelly then removed Clark from public ministry.

Clark's friend, Scott Andrew, said that when he visited the priest while he was awaiting trial, Clark told him that he had molested ''numerous children in numerous Kentucky counties, and across state lines in Indiana.''

Clark eventually pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 15 years in prison but was required to serve only 90 days in a work-release program. He was ordered to have no contact with children during his probation, which was set at five years.

In 1989, the archdiocese paid one of the prosecuting witnesses, Michael Thomas Mudd, $207,000 to settle a lawsuit filed against it and Clark with the stipulation that he never disclose the terms of the accord or that it was settled.

ON SPECIAL ASSIGNMENT

Clark stayed busy with volunteer groups

It was about that time that Clark began sponsoring local Sex Addicts Anonymous groups and serving on the steering committee of a national council on the subject.

The Rev. William F. Medley, who succeeded Fichteman as the archdiocese's clergy personnel director, rejected Clark's proposal that he be appointed as the church's contact person for priests with sexual problems problems that Clark predicted then would cause the church ''economic devastation.''

In a January 1990 memo addressing Clark's future as a priest, Medley wrote that Clark was ''shocked'' to learn that the church's lawyer had decided he could never be assigned a ministerial role because doing so ''implied a position of trust,'' even if it did not specifically involve children.

''An example would be that of chaplain to a nursing home,'' Medley wrote. ''There would, obviously, not be any direct ministry to minor children but his position there could obviously lead to contact with children and he would be viewed as holding a position of trust.''

Two years later, Kelly would assign another priest, the Rev. Louis Miller, to be chaplain at a nursing and retirement home, despite knowing that Miller had admitted in a mental health evaluation to fondling boys his entire adult life.

In his own memo about a conversation with Clark, Kelly said he told the priest it was so expensive keeping him on salary and housed in the Passionist Monastery that ''I planted the idea which he loathed of possible laicization.''

Clark rejected the idea in a Feb. 6, 1990, letter to Kelly: ''After a great deal of prayer, discussion with Dr. O'Connor, feedback from colleagues and brother clergy, a request for laicization is not an option I can or should embrace.''

For many of the next 12 years, Clark was listed in the official national Catholic directory as being on ''special assignment.'' He served on the archdiocese's Priest Council, and, according to annual memos he wrote to Kelly, was ghost-writing decisions for a priest appeal board, among other duties.

He also kept busy as a volunteer.

He was a storm spotter, for example, for the old Louisville-Jefferson County Department of Disaster and Emergency Services, becoming known as the ''Priest in the Bell Tower.'' As bad weather approached, Clark would climb to the highest perch at the Passionist Community.

''We always felt safer when the priest was in the tower watching the skies,'' said Curran Copeland, the agency's former hazard mitigation officer.

Copeland added that as the agency's informal chaplain, Clark ''would do whatever was needed, whether it was cleaning toilets or comforting someone who had just lost his spouse. . . . He really did care about people, and he had an undying, unlimited faith in God.''

Others praised Clark for his willingness to help addicts in the middle of the night.

Cecelia Price, the archdiocese's spokeswoman, said Clark was expected to inform the volunteer groups about his history.

But the Camp Taylor Fire Department, didn't know about Clark, where he was chaplain until last year, according to Chief Harold Adkins. Nor did Kentucky REACT, a group of private radio operators that Clark was involved with in the 1990s.

''If I had had that information, he wouldn't be on our board we had teenagers in our program,'' said Ruby Gordon, retired program director of the Health Department's methadone program, which in 1994 invited Clark to serve as a director.

Copeland also said his organization didn't know. ''He seemed to have no sex at all. He could crack a dirty joke now and then, but it came off kind of lame, like he had read the joke but was just repeating it.''

FRIENDSHIP'S END

Ex-colleague tells Clark to stay away from his children.

In one of his last recorded letters to Kelly, in April 2000, Clark insisted he was in control of his urges, saying he could ''maintain strict boundaries in my ministry.''

And as recently as 1999, Kelly indicated that he thought Clark had successfully rehabilitated himself. ''I am very proud of you,'' Kelly wrote to him after he received an award from the National Council on Sexual Addictions: ''You have turned ultimate misfortune into the ground of a successful ministry, and we are all grateful for your generosity of spirit that prompts you to continue so faithful in this work.''

But according to his Bullitt County indictment, he was at that very time visiting the Henry home and sodomizing two additional boys, ages 11 and 12.

Clark's friend Andrew said he decided last year that he could no longer have the priest around his own two children, who once affectionately addressed him as ''Uncle Dan.''

Andrew called and left a message that Clark was no longer welcome in his home when his children were there.

''I told him, 'the truth of it is you're a pedophile' and that there is no cure,'' Andrew recalled. ''It broke my heart that it ended our friendship. But I couldn't trust him.''


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