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SNAP of Tennessee

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests - Tennessee 

Sex abuse suit dismissed against Nashville diocese

JUDGE SAYS NOTHING LINKS MCKEOWN CASE

By KIRK LOGGINS

June 21, 2001

 A judge yesterday dismissed lawsuits in which two boys said the Roman Catholic Diocese of Nashville should be held liable for their being molested by former priest Edward McKeown.

 Davidson County Circuit Judge Walter Kurtz said the sexual abuse of the two boys, in 1994-98, had come too long after McKeown was forced to leave the priesthood, in 1989, to hold the church accountable for his actions.

 John Day, one of the lawyers for the two boys, said he was "very disappointed" that Kurtz's "opinion of the law does not reflect what we believe the morals of this community require."

 Day said he would recommend that his clients ask the Tennessee Court of Appeals to reverse Kurtz's decision and keep the lawsuits alive. The boys' lawsuits still stand against McKeown, who is serving a 25-year prison sentence for molesting one of the boys.

 Rick Musacchio, a spokesman for the Diocese of Nashville, said the judge's ruling yesterday had affirmed "what we have been saying all along -- that as soon as we learned of Mr. McKeown's misdeeds, we acted to follow the law and the best medical advice of the time."

 Church officials "have great sympathy for the victims and we reach out to them. We reiterate our offer to help victims who might need counseling or assistance, even though there is no legal obligation to do so."

 Kurtz ruled in November that the boys, who are now 18 and 19, could not recover damages from the diocese based on the alleged failure by church officials to report McKeown to law enforcement authorities when they learned in the 1980s that he had molested two boys several years earlier. Lawyers for the boys refocused their lawsuits against the diocese in December under the legal theory of outrageous conduct, alleging that the two boys would not have been molested if church officials had investigated McKeown more aggressively in the 1980s.

 "They didn't want to look under the rock. ... They didn't want to know," Day told Kurtz in a hearing Friday.

 The attorney pointed to McKeown's admission in 1986, during treatment required by the church, that he had molested about 30 boys over the previous 14 years.

 But Kurtz ruled yesterday that any alleged shortcomings by church officials were too remote from McKeown's involvement with the two boys in 1994-98 to hold the church liable.

 "However one might judge the conduct of the diocese," Kurtz said in a written opinion, "the plaintiffs' case is fatally flawed because there is simply not the appropriate link between the alleged conduct and the sexual assaults on the plaintiffs."

 The judge said most other cases that have found liability against churches for sexual misconduct of priests or ministers "involved sexual misconduct by an active church employee against children who were engaged in a church-related activity."

 McKeown met the two boys who sued him in a trailer park where he lived several years after he was forced to leave the priesthood.

 Kurtz also dismissed yesterday the two boys' lawsuits against Frank Richards, another former priest and an admitted pedophile, who was told in 1980 that McKeown had molested a boy in 1974.

 McKeown admitted a long history of abusing boys when police questioned him in 1999 about a complaint by one of the boys who later sued him.

 The mother of the other boy who filed suit had complained to Metro police about McKeown in 1995, but no charges resulted from that investigation. McKeown has denied molesting that boy.

 Each boy was asking for $8 million in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages.