Six years after losing a high-stakes courthouse gamble with victims of the Rev. Rudy Kos, the Dallas Catholic Diocese is still besieged with sexual abuse cases.
Pending or recently settled claims allege that the diocese covered up for or failed to supervise seven priests, most of whom have served under Bishop Charles Grahmann. One lawsuit stems from abuse by a layman at a parish day-care center.
Diocesan attorney Randy Mathis said most of the problems predated Bishop Grahmann. The bishop, he said, is determined to settle the cases most of which involve child abuse and “to make sure it never happens again.”
“There’s no question that the cases are winding down,” Mr. Mathis said. “The goal is to resolve all the cases in 2003.”
He reached out-of-court deals this spring with victims of four priests: Mr. Kos, the Rev. Kenneth Roberts, the Rev. Michael T. Flanagan and the Rev. Patrick J. Lynch.
The Lynch lawsuit proved particularly difficult for the diocese for starters, because church leaders had documented the priest’s misconduct three decades before pressing him to retire. Then new evidence emerged that Bishop Grahmann had continued to aid the priest. And the suit led to a court ruling that could limit the church’s insurance coverage in abuse cases.
Father Lynch, 68, did not respond to the lawsuit and was judged liable by default; a lawyer who briefly represented him said he had denied wrongdoing. Neither the bishop nor his aides responded to recent requests for comment. His spokesman, Bronson Havard, said last year that the bishop did not know where the priest was, although “we presume he’s living in Ireland,” his native country.
Mr. Mathis said victims seem to understand that the church has limited resources and have accepted significantly smaller settlements lately.
In the landmark 1997 civil trial of the diocese and Mr. Kos, jurors awarded 11 plaintiffs a total of nearly $120 million, the largest clergy-abuse verdict in history. Post-trial negotiations cut the amount to about $31 million. Settlements in other cases have added up to about $7 million more.
Diocesan insurers have paid roughly two-thirds of the total. Some, however, have been arguing in court that they shouldn’t have to pay for their clients’ malfeasance. Two recently won a ruling to that effect from Dallas County state District Judge Jay Patterson.
Mr. Mathis said he expects to succeed in overturning the ruling on appeal. Even if it stands, he said, he doesn’t think that it would prevent the diocese from settling other cases.
But Brad Dickinson, an attorney for one of the companies, Interstate Fire & Casualty, said the ruling “will have a dramatic effect in the short term on the diocese’s contention that insurers have to fund the settlements.”
And if upheld on appeal, he said, the decision could set a precedent in similar cases around the country.
In the case that led to the insurance ruling, Mr. Dickinson cited evidence previously reported in The Dallas Morning News that diocesan officials first protected Father Lynch when he was a young priest in the mid-1960s.
Memo from 1966
An aide to one of Bishop Grahmann’s predecessors wrote a brief personnel-file memo in 1966 saying that the cleric had been “sexually involved with a student while stationed at St. Pius X Church,” which had a school for kindergarten through eighth grade. “This should be kept confidential.”
In 1995, after the diocese received other reports of misconduct by Father Lynch during the 1960s, Bishop Grahmann granted the priest early-retirement benefits based on a heart condition â€“ which already had been treated successfully with a single angioplasty and overnight hospital stay, church records show.
The bishop did not suspend Father Lynch from ministry until 1997, shortly after The News first reported on these matters. By that point, the diocese had compensated two accusers and knew of others, representing at least four of the 12 parishes Father Lynch had served.
The recently settled lawsuit was filed in late 1999 and led to major new revelations, diocesan records show.
For example, Father Lynch didn’t simply deny abuse after being confronted in the mid-1990s, as diocesan representatives have said. Rather, his responses led several questioners to doubt him.
A priest who initially quizzed him on behalf of Bishop Grahmann wrote that Father Lynch “commented that he may have wrestled” with one boy and “significantly, he did not deny wrongdoing. I felt that without stating it, he did admit to this offense and hinted that there were others as well.”
The diocese subsequently had Father Lynch evaluated at the Shalom Center, a Catholic treatment facility in Splendora, near Houston. There, a nun’s report said, “he made incriminatory statements such as, ‘At my age, I can’t go back over all that happened 30 years ago. Things were different then.’ ” A psychologist wrote that Father Lynch denied abuse but “was not very convincing” and probably suffered from “serious personality pathology.”
Despite these warnings, Bishop Grahmann then let him retire in good standing a status that permits continued ministry. Father Lynch moved overseas with an upbeat letter from the bishop that made no mention of abuse.
“I commend you,” the bishop wrote, “on doing such a great job for the people of the diocese.”
Two years later, Bishop Grahmann issued a suspension decree that said Father Lynch had “refused to confirm or deny” additional allegations and had to be prevented “from having free access to further potential victims under the guise of being a priest in good standing.”
The decree stated that Dallas diocesan officials would alert bishops’ organizations in Ireland and England about Father Lynch. Bishop Grahmann’s top aide in 1997, the Rev. Glenn “Duffy” Gardner, said then that the cleric was spending time in his native land and with his sister, near London.
Getting word to Europe
But the diocese, according to its own records, waited a year to notify the bishops’ groups about the suspension. At that point, in July 1998, another senior Grahmann aide sent this message to Cardinal Basil Hume in England:
“We have heard indirectly that Father Lynch is living in the London area and may be functioning as a priest,” the Rev. John Bell wrote. “We pray that this is not the case.”
Monsignor Bell’s letter said the priest “continues to allude [sic] diocese and local authorities.” By December 1998, however, he was visiting Monsignor Gardner in Dallas and asking to have his suspension lifted.
After the visit, Father Lynch submitted a letter from a Dallas psychiatrist endorsing him for further priestly duty. The suspension “was a grave stressor that can impact negatively his health,” Dr. Raphael Emanuel wrote, making no mention of abuse. “Please lift his suspension, for both physical and psychological reasons and so that he may be able to be of service to those who may need him.”
In May 1999, the bishop of the area in central Ireland where Father Lynch grew up wrote to Bishop Grahmann with concerns. Father Lynch, he said, was living in the little town of Castlepollard, where “the local pastor had contact with him but was unable to ascertain what his status or intentions were.”
Meath Bishop Michael Smith added that Father Lynch “has involved himself minimally in religious celebrations in the parish but has been very involved in some social activities, especially the local tennis club.
“Perhaps you could let me know what his present relationship is with your diocese and also if there is any reason why he should not be involved in parish activities, especially those involving the young.”
After Dallas Chancellor Mary Edlund sent him the suspension decree, Bishop Smith wrote back and said he had asked Father Lynch to come see him. He also said he had received no warning about the priest.
In an interview with The News, Bishop Smith said Father Lynch did meet with him but divulged little. The priest said that “his own side of things might not have been taken into account as much as it should’ve been,” the bishop said.
He said Father Lynch has not worked as a priest in the Meath Diocese or been the target of complaints or suspicions. Citing fear of litigation and lack of information from Dallas, the bishop said he had not told Castlepollard parishioners about the priest’s past.
“Irish people are generally very astute,” Bishop Smith said. “There’s no great risk involved.”
Father Lynch still lives part time in Castlepollard, the bishop said, and also spends long stretches in England. Some of his closest neighbors in the village have children and mow his lawn, according to a reporter for the newspaper Ireland on Sunday.
The plaintiff in the recently settled suit is Lance Donohue, a former altar boy at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Richardson. He said in a deposition that he was 10 when Father Lynch first made him engage in fondling, in 1977.
“He told me that it’s OK,” Mr. Donohue testified, “that if there was anything wrong with it that God wouldn’t allow it to happen, and that it would upset my family [if someone found out] and that if I didn’t do it I would go to hell.”
Three times over the next two years, he testified, Father Lynch raped him. He kept the secret, he said, and began abusing drugs and alcohol by age 14.
Mr. Donohue, now 36, said he finally spoke up in the late 1990s, when he became suicidal and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Several months of diocese-funded inpatient therapy “saved my life,” he said in an interview.
His gratitude for that help is tempered by his feeling that the diocese remains “an organization steeped in denial,” he said. Church officials, he said, apologized for Father Lynch’s behavior, but “they weren’t apologizing for their own.”
Mr. Mathis, the diocesan attorney, said that the diocese admitted no wrongdoing in the Lynch case or others, but “has clearly apologized for the entire thing.”
He said he has seen no “piling on” effect â€“ no sign of people inventing abuse claims after others publicly accuse a priest. False accusations, he said, have been “minimal.”
Mr. Mathis declined to reveal the amount of the Lynch case settlement. So did Mr. Donohue and his attorneys at the law office of Windle Turley, who have represented victims of several Dallas priests.
The diocese has spent large sums to defend itself in the case, according to a letter Bishop Grahmann sent Father Lynch 18 months ago. Legal fees “incurred as a result of your misconduct” exceeded $130,000 at that point, the bishop wrote, and therapy for “victim Donohue” cost $40,000.
“There’s no amount of money that can repay me and the others he’s affected,” Mr. Donohue said, adding that he wants to reach out to fellow victims. “I feel like I’ve been given a voice.”
Court records show that Houston lawyer Lawrence Greer, another former Lynch altar boy, briefly represented the priest. The attorney said he bowed out because Father Lynch couldn’t afford his services and the diocese wouldn’t pay for them.
“I think he feels that the church has treated him badly,” Mr. Greer said. “The church seems to feel that he has treated them badly.”
Mr. Havard, the diocese spokesman, acknowledged last year that Bishop Grahmann had not sought to remove Father Lynch from the priesthood. Nor had he ordered the cleric to disclose his whereabouts.
“We don’t have a church reason for knowing where he is,” the spokesman said.
Mr. Havard added that the diocese had indirect contact with the priest, via a bank where his pension check was deposited. He said federal law requires payment of the pension.
Last year, at the height of the church’s sex-abuse crisis, U.S. bishops said that not all abusers should be laicized â€“ returned to the lay state. One reason cited was the need for continuing oversight.
The Rev. Thomas Doyle, a church-law expert and former official at the Vatican embassy in Washington, said Bishop Grahmann remains responsible for Father Lynch as long as he is a priest of the Dallas Diocese.
“He should order him to come back” and face the accusations, Father Doyle said. “He should tell him, ‘We’re going to hold your checks until we know where you are.’ ”
Bishop Grahmann did not seek to laicize Father Lynch, Mr. Havard said, because “we think it’s a moot question.” He would not elaborate.
Mr. Havard also would not explain why the bishop had sought to remove only one man from the priesthood: Mr. Kos.