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April 27, 2011

Wolves in the hen house

New anti-abuse group highlights failings of archdiocese

In an office building off Brownsboro Road, some 20 people mill about the open, carpeted conference room, inspecting the computer printouts and Xeroxed pages that line the walls as if they were paintings in an art gallery. News cameramen are at the ready, filming interviews with members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), a support and action group for individuals abused by (primarily) Catholic clergy. Conversation buzzes.

Standing at the podium before a giant projector screen, Nick Pfeiffer addresses the crowd, and the cameras swivel to
face him.

The church is not the institution,” he says. “The church is not the bishops, the church is us ... we can take this mission to end sexual abuse. We can actually rid the church of this evil.”

Pfeiffer, along with members of SNAP, have called the media to announce the creation of a new group, Protect the Children, which aims to raise legal funds for victims and to provide protection for priests afraid of speaking against their abusive colleagues.

The new group also has started a website — ky-protectthechildren.net — and plans to hold its first meeting next month. The group will focus on raising money and offer a toll-free number for victims.

But there’s another website that, more than anything, has become the biggest weapon in SNAP’s arsenal: www.bishopaccountability.org offers an ever-expanding encyclopedia of documentation recording the abuses of priests (and their enablers) across the nation, including the Archdiocese of Louisville. The content includes links to local newspaper stories and uploaded copies of official diocesan material.

“All of these documents are readily available for anyone to go to,” says Cal Pfeiffer, Nick’s father and an active SNAP member. “(People) will actually be able to see the letters, see the documents, see the cover-up — or at least be able to judge for themselves.”

The documents chronicle evidence of cover-ups and indifference to innumerable instances of sexual abuse since 1985, and lay bare the cost of that abuse: Between 2002-2010, the Archdiocese of Louisville spent nearly $30 million on court-ordered settlements, victim support and abuse prevention, including more than $2 million on legal defense, according to information compiled from the archdiocese’s own website.

And the record of abuse goes beyond Louisville. One set of papers reveals that soon after the suicide of David M. Jarboe — the 23-year-old Owensboro man who shot and killed himself Feb. 3, 2011, in the parking lot of his parish, Blessed Mother Catholic Church, reportedly as a result of sexual abuse by clergy members — the Diocese of Owensboro hired a risk-management firm, Praesidium Inc., to investigate the death against the wishes of SNAP, whose members are leery of the company, claiming it is interfering with the police investigation.

The information is too troubling, and too much, almost, to even notice the document mentioning Bishop David Apartments, a retirement community for defrocked, inactive, stipend-receiving priests located at 5146 Dixie Hwy. In a Feb. 23 cover story, LEO Weekly first reported that the apartment complex, which shares a parcel of land with Holy Cross High School, has housed priests who have admitted to or been indicted on charges of sexual abusing a minor.

LEO contacted the archdiocese as well as Holy Cross, but neither returned requests for comment.

Cal Pfeiffer, for one, isn’t surprised.

“I doubt you’ll get any of them that will want to speak with you about that,” he says, adding that he isn’t sure how many abusive priests have been housed at the complex over the years, but he estimates the number is high.

Pfeiffer recounts a conversation he had with former Archbishop Thomas Kelley and diocesan employee Brian Reynolds about Father Louis Miller — who is serving a 30-year prison sentence for molesting 29 minors over a period of nearly 40 years — in which Pfeiffer expressed concerns over the lax security they placed on Miller during the latter’s retirement at Bishop David Apartments prior to sentencing. He says that Reynolds told him they allowed Miller to come and go as he pleased, and that, if he wanted to, they could not stop him from leaving town.

“For them to claim that legally they couldn’t do anything is absurd because he is a priest,” Pfeiffer says, “meaning they can tell him to do whatever they want and he would pretty much have to do it” because of his dependence on the church’s assistance.

State law requires convicted sex offenders to register with the Kentucky State Police, which provides a map on its website to track locations of registrants. According to KSP, the Rev. Edwin Scherzer, who was indicted in 2005 and pleaded guilty to four counts of “indecent and immoral practices with a child,” is currently under a form of home-incarceration in Bishop David Apartments.

But given there are priests who have admitted to sexual abuse yet have not been criminally charged, it’s difficult for the public to track their whereabouts.

Aside from Scherzer and Miller, there’s also the Rev. Jim Schook who, along with a fellow priest and Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, is being sued by a former diocesan bookkeeper, Margie Weiter, and her husband, Gary. The Weiters allege Schook — accused of sexual abuse and removed from ministry as a result — stayed at the apartment building with minimal supervision.

“I was visiting family out in J-Town,” Gary Weiter says, “and I noticed there were these signs informing me there’s a sex offender living in one of these neighborhoods. They have them every few feet, you know? Well, it’d be nice if they could notify us like that when the sex offender happens to be a priest, but I guess it doesn’t work that way, does it?”