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2 lawsuits accuse former Kansas City area clergymen of abuse

Saturday, June 14, 2008 | 5:24 p.m. CDT; updated 12:32 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

KANSAS CITY — Two lawsuits have been filed accusing Catholic clergy of sexually abusing two boys more than three decades ago.

The lawsuits, filed Friday against the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, allege the two priests worked at St. Elizabeth Parish in Kansas City during the 1970s.

One of the lawsuits makes claims against Monsignor Thomas O’Brien, who has been named in at least a dozen other similar cases, The Kansas City Star reported. It was filed by the mother of a man who died in 1999 in a car accident.

The second case accuses Earl Johnson, a member of the Capuchin order, of sexually abusing another man 30 years ago.

The suits are the latest of about 20 local cases filed by 43 plaintiffs in recent years, alleging that clergy abused children.

Barbara Dorris, victims outreach director for the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said the church should listen to Pope Benedict XVI, who has said there is no room in the church for those who abuse children.

“When are you going to follow the pope’s lead?” Dorris said. “When are you going to meet with the victims?”

A spokeswoman for the diocese declined to comment on the lawsuits because she had not seen them. But she encouraged all victims to report such abuse to police and church authorities.

“The diocese has made it known that we will respond promptly to all allegations of abuse,” said Rebecca Summers. “Our policies affirm full cooperation with civil authorities and include lay involvement in responding to complaints.”

An attorney for O’Brien, Gerald McGonagle, said he could not comment until he had reviewed the case.

The lawsuit against O’Brien accuses him of abusing the man at the St. Elizabeth’s rectory in 1972. The mother suggested that her son’s rebellious attitude and drug and alcohol use stemmed from the abuse.

The woman said she believes the diocese knew of O’Brien’s conduct and contends that she now distrusts clergy and suffers from shock, emotional distress, loss of self-esteem and humiliation. She also is caring for her son’s five children.

Summers said that O’Brien was ordained in 1950, retired from parish ministry in 1984 and served as a part-time hospital chaplain until 2002. Since then he has held no ministerial responsibilities.

The second suit, filed by an unidentified 41-year-old Kansas City-area man, accuses Johnson of abusing him for about three years beginning in the late 1970s.

The diocese and Johnson’s order contributed to the abuse when a priest once closed the door to a room where Johnson was abusing the boy, knowing the abuse was going on, the suit alleged.

Dorris said her organization doesn’t know where Johnson lives now but believes he left the order.


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