Lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by three current or former Kansas City priests have been filed in recent weeks, bringing the number of cases filed this year to two dozen.
By JUDY L. THOMAS
The Kansas City Star
The defendants — the Rev. Michael Tierney, retired Monsignor Thomas J. O’Brien and retired Bishop Joseph Hart — all are the subjects of multiple lawsuits.
A lawsuit filed last month by a 53-year-old Missouri man under the name John Doe 101 accuses Tierney of sexually abusing him when he served as an altar boy at St. Elizabeth Catholic Church.
According to the lawsuit, filed in Jackson County Circuit Court, Tierney fondled the boy numerous times in the sacristy while preparing for Mass. At least one time, the lawsuit alleges, Tierney took the plaintiff and another boy to Lake Viking near Cameron, Mo. The lawsuit says that Tierney and O’Brien provided alcohol to a group of boys at the lake house and that some boys became “inebriated or high to the point of insensibility.”
The lawsuit also alleges that O’Brien offered the plaintiff and other boys “the chance to ‘have’ a particular girl for sexual favors” and that the rectory basement at St. Elizabeth “looked like a liquor store.” The boy told his father about the abuse, the lawsuit alleges, but his father didn’t believe him and threatened to kick him out of the house if he continued to make such accusations. After that, the lawsuit says, the plaintiff blocked the events from his mind, never telling anyone until August 2011 after hearing about a lawsuit filed by a fellow student at St. Elizabeth.
Multiple priests and lay persons in the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph knew of O’Brien’s and Tierney’s misconduct and covered it up, the lawsuit alleges.
The suit, which seeks unspecified damages, also names the diocese and Bishop Robert Finn as defendants. It is the fifth lawsuit to be filed against Tierney since fall 2010. O’Brien has been named as a defendant in more than 25 lawsuits since 2004.
Tierney’s attorney, Brian Madden, declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing a gag order on attorneys involving Tierney’s cases.
The diocese issued a statement in response to the lawsuit:
“After receiving credible reports of sexual misconduct by Father Tierney in the spring of 2011, Bishop Robert Finn accepted the recommendation of the Independent Review Board to remove Father Tierney from all pastoral assignments in June 2011.”
Another lawsuit, filed last month by Gilbert Padilla, 48, alleges abuse by Hart and O’Brien and accuses the diocese of covering it up.
According to the lawsuit, the abuse occurred at St. John Francis Regis Catholic School, where Hart was a pastor. Padilla alleges in the lawsuit that Hart and his friend, O’Brien, sexually abused him and offered him marijuana, alcohol and pornography in the mid-1970s.
The lawsuit alleges that Padilla reported the sexual abuse to the principal in 1976 when he was in eighth grade. But the principal, a nun, refused to believe him and asked him if he understood that priests were men of God.
The suit, filed in Jackson County Circuit Court, seeks unspecified damages. It also names Finn and the diocese as defendants.
O’Brien told The Star in a recent interview that all of the allegations against him were false. Then, specifically mentioning Padilla’s lawsuit, he said, “There’s nothing to that one. I’ve never heard of this guy. That’s impossible.”
Hart could not be reached for comment. The diocese said that Hart served in five parishes in the diocese and was ordained Bishop of Cheyenne, Wyo., in 1976. In 1989 and 1992, the diocese said, it received two complaints alleging that Hart had inappropriately touched two people in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Hart denied the allegations but asked the diocese to address them according to local policies. A psychiatric evaluation found that he did not appear to be a threat to himself or others, the diocese said. Hart returned to ministry in Wyoming, retiring in 2001.
“In retirement, Bishop Hart faced other accusations,” the diocese said. “A 2002 investigation by Wyoming law enforcement cleared him of a report of sexual misconduct with a Cheyenne-area youth in the late 1970s.”
The lawsuit is the sixth to name Hart as a defendant.
The diocese said it received a complaint in late 1983 accusing O’Brien of sexual misconduct. O’Brien’s file contains four subsequent, similar complaints during that period, the diocese said. O’Brien underwent psychiatric treatment, returned to the diocese in 1984 and was allowed to serve as a hospital chaplain at St. Joseph Health Center until 2002, when he was permanently barred from any form of ministry, the diocese said.
To reach Judy L. Thomas, call 816-234-4334 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.