KC priest Thomas J. O’Brien, who was named in sex abuse lawsuits, dies

10/22/2013 3:38 PM

10/23/2013 1:08 AM

A Kansas City priest who has been the subject of numerous sexual abuse lawsuits — including one settled this year for more than $2 million — has died.

Monsignor Thomas J. O’Brien, 87, died this week, his lawyer confirmed Tuesday.

“I don’t know any of the details, and I just got that information from family members,” said Gerald McGonagle, who has represented O’Brien for years.

A spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph said he had no comment on the death.

O’Brien has been the subject of more than two dozen lawsuits alleging sexual abuse and was among 12 current or former priests named in a 47-plaintiff case that the diocese settled for $10 million in 2008. He repeatedly had denied all abuse allegations.

Six lawsuits against the diocese involving O’Brien are pending, and the diocese in July settled a wrongful-death lawsuit for $2.25 million with the parents of a boy whose family claimed he took his own life 30 years ago because of repeated sexual abuse by O’Brien.

Donald and Rosemary Teeman filed that lawsuit in 2011 after a man who served as an altar boy with their son, Brian, told them of the alleged abuse. Brian Teeman, 14, died of a gunshot wound in November 1983 at the family’s home in Independence.

The settlement was the largest ever for the diocese in a single priest sexual abuse lawsuit. In addition to the diocese’s settlement, O’Brien settled for $2,500.

The story of Brian Teeman and three other altar boys was the subject of a three-day series, “The Altar Boys’ Secret,” that The Star published in December 2011.

Donald Teeman said he felt numb when he learned of O’Brien’s death following the settlement in his case. “I’m just glad it’s over with,” he said.

Attorneys from the law office of Randles, Mata & Brown, which represents the plaintiffs in the lawsuits, declined to comment. It was unclear Tuesday what effect O’Brien’s death would have on the pending lawsuits.

Born and raised in Kansas City, O’Brien attended St. Francis Xavier Elementary and Rockhurst High School, then Conception High School and Conception Seminary. After being ordained in 1950 at age 23, he served at several parishes, including St. Patrick’s in Kansas City, North; St. Elizabeth’s in Kansas City; and Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Independence. He also was principal of St. Pius X High School from 1961 until 1968 and superintendent of Catholic schools for the diocese from 1969 to 1971.

The diocese previously has told The Star that it received its first complaint about O’Brien in September 1983 accusing the priest of sexual misconduct with a teenage boy. O’Brien denied any wrongdoing, the diocese said.

O’Brien was removed from his assignment as pastor of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary parish in October 1983 and was sent for psychological evaluation and treatment, the diocese said.

After completing treatment, O’Brien returned to the diocese in June 1984 and was allowed to serve only as a part-time hospital chaplain, the diocese said. He continued in that position until 2002. Later that year, the bishop at that time, Raymond J. Boland, told O’Brien that he could no longer present himself as a priest.

Jon David Couzens, the former altar boy whose story prompted the Teemans’ lawsuit, said he had mixed emotions about O’Brien’s death. Couzens has his own lawsuit against O’Brien and the diocese, which is scheduled for trial next year.

“In one way, I would have loved to have seen him one last time, in the courtroom, face-to-face as a grown man,” Couzens said.

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