A lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Owensboro claims sexual abuse by several priests caused a woman to kill herself.
Karen Roby, 50, fatally shot herself in a park last spring. A lawsuit filed by her estate Thursday is the first in Kentucky and one of a few nationwide to claim a diocese contributed to a suicide.
Roby, a Jefferson County nurse who underwent psychiatric treatment as an adult, was allegedly abused between 1962 and 1970 by three priests the Revs. Delmon Clements, Richard Powers and Robert Willett when she was a parishioner and student at Sts. Joseph and Paul Catholic Church in Owensboro.
The lawsuit says that the diocese paid $41,000 to Roby in a confidential settlement in 1999 but that that money was returned last month.
Now a pastor at St. Mary Magdalene Church near Owensboro, the 71-year-old Powers denied any contact with Roby.
“I don’t know this woman,” he said. “I have had nothing to do with her.”
No priest named “Delmon Clements” is listed in the diocese, but the lawsuit included a handwritten note from Roby to Bishop John McRaith that named Delma Clemons, a priest at St. Jerome Church in Fancy Farm. Clemons could not be reached by telephone at the church.
Willett is dead.
An attorney for the diocese, Marvin Nunley, said he had not seen the lawsuit. But he said any claim Roby made against the diocese had been released with the 1999 settlement.
“It just appears to me, on the surface, their estate wants another bite at the apple,” Nunley said. He said Powers “is absolutely innocent of anything” but declined to comment further.
Neither McRaith nor members of Roby’s family could be reached for comment.
According to the note from Roby, she claimed that she was abused at age 15 by Willett. But she said she wanted to retract her initial claim that she was 17 when she was abused by Clemons. She said she instead believed she actually was 18. The note does not mention Powers.
An attorney for Roby’s estate administrator her brother, Peter. Clemons contacted Karen Roby by phone in 2002 and urged her to say she 18 when he abused her.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages. Like other lawsuits against the Roman Catholic Church in Kentucky, it claims the diocese knew or should have known of the abuse but instead
David Clohessy, the national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said he is only certain of two lawsuits that claim the church is responsible for the alleged victim’s suicide.
A man sued the St. Louis archdiocese, claiming his son committed suicide because of abuse by a priest in the 1980s. In Los Angeles, a lawsuit claims a couple’s son hanged himself after he was abused by a member of a religious brotherhood.