Brothers: A Priest and A Abuse Activist. One brother is a priest. The other brother once sued the Roman Catholic Church, alleging he was molested by his childhood priest, and is now director of a national support group for such victims.
The Rev. Kevin Clohessy and his brother, David, have been largely estranged since that 1991 lawsuit. But the divide has suddenly become sharper and more painful: The priest was publicly accused this week of molesting a male college student nearly a decade ago.
David said he had known for years about the allegations and agonized over whether to report his brother to authorities. He even contemplated distributing leaflets outside his brother’s church. But in the end, he did not go to the police.
“It will probably be a quandary until the day I die,” said David, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, which claims more than 3,500 members.
The Jefferson City Diocese confirmed this week that Kevin had been accused of sexual contact with an 18-year-old in 1993 while working at a Catholic student center at Northeast Missouri State University in Kirksville. The school is now called Truman State University.
The diocese said Kevin, now 42, was removed from his post and received treatment at the time at a church retreat because of “inappropriate and serious” behavior. He later took an assignment in Taos, Missouri, but left more than a year ago and no longer has a parish. It is not clear whether he has been sued over the alleged episode; no criminal charges have been filed.
Kevin’s whereabouts this week were unclear and he could not be located for comment.
He is one of scores of priests around the country caught up in a child-molestation scandal that erupted in Boston earlier this year.
David, 45, said he found out about the allegations in the mid-1990s from an employee of the Jefferson City Diocese. And soon after, in his activist role, he was called by the man his brother allegedly molested.
I was abused by somebody who you know.
“The victim started the call by saying something like, `I was abused by somebody who you know,’ and the minute he said that, I suspected my brother because I knew Kevin had been removed from his work,” David said Thursday in a telephone interview from St. Louis.
David said he weighed “hundreds of times” whether to report his brother to police or abide by his support group’s philosophy that victims should be the whistle-blowers, in order to heal themselves.
“I was very distraught for months, but I knew at that point that unless the victim was willing, there was nothing I could do,” David said.
Several years ago, he called Kevin, “and I told him, `I know what you have done.'” He said they talked by phone several times over the next few months, David hoping his brother would acknowledge his alleged behavior.
“Kevin would say he was in therapy and making progress, but never would he say, `I crossed a boundary and did something inappropriate,'” David said. “It was getting ugly and we stopped talking.”
David filed his own lawsuit in 1991, alleging abuse by his boyhood pastor in Missouri. When David told Kevin about his lawsuit, “Kevin told me it was probably best we not talk for a while. He also told me he was abused” by the same pastor.
The lawsuit was dismissed in 1993 because the statute of limitations had run out. According to the diocese, the pastor resigned from the priesthood in 1992.
David went on to found the St. Louis chapter of SNAP. The all-volunteer organization holds confidential support group meetings and has distributed leaflets at churches encouraging abuse victims to call. Volunteers have also lobbied for changes in the law, such as extending the statute of limitations.
In his role at SNAP, David said, he has gone into diocese offices alongside victims to report abuse allegations.
After leaving Taos, Kevin worked for nonprofit agencies in Columbia but recently left his job. Former employers said they did not know how to reach him, and he has no Columbia telephone listing. Jefferson City Diocese spokesman Mark Saucier said that Kevin has contacted the diocese recently. But Saucier said he did not know how to reach the priest.
On the night of April 4, David got in touch with his brother through his employer and talked to him by telephone after learning Kevin was about to be named in a news report about clergy abuse.
“It was a pretty short conversation. I told him there was a story coming and that I knew we were both victims of abuse. I have no idea where my brother is now,” David said.
“I know he is going through hell. On the one hand, he’s an abuser. On the other hand, he’s my brother.”
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