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Indiana lawsuits latest in nationwide movement

Indiana lawsuits latest in nationwide movement

By Stephanie Salter/Tribune-Star

Over the past few months, four Indiana men have filed civil lawsuits against the former Rev. Harry E. Monroe for sexual abuse they allegedly suffered as children. With the suits, the men join a growing population of disillusioned Catholics who have turned to public courts for remediation of sins they say their church repeatedly committed and covered up.

Few dioceses in the nation are unsullied.

In some instances, former priests have been convicted and jailed for decades-old sex abuse of children. More frequently, dioceses have paid multimillion-dollar settlements to plaintiffs who brought their charges of sex crimes committed by clergy or other church employees to the civil court arena.

Among the most publicized cases is a $120 million settlement between the Boston Archdiocese and 552 people who testified they were sexually abused by priests as children and suffered further through systematic secrecy and negligence by church hierarchy.

Boston Cardinal Bernard Law resigned at the height of the scandal in 2002 and was appointed by Pope John Paul II to serve as the archpriest of a basilica in Rome.

Most recently in Philadelphia, a three-year grand jury investigation culminated in one of the most blistering reports ever issued on the subject. Detailed accusations against 63 priests were outlined in a 418-page document released in September.

Using files that had been kept, according to canon law, for access only by a few archdiocesan officials, the jurors said they found ample evidence, not only of graphic sexual and physical abuse by priests but of cover-ups and misinformation by two previous cardinals, Anthony Bevilaqua and John Krol, and other diocesan officials.

The report stated: “To protect themselves from negative publicity or expensive lawsuits - while keeping abusive priests active - the cardinals and their aides hid the priests' crimes from parishioners, police and the general public.”

The report said the grand jury regrettably could indict no one because the statute of limitations for reporting the alleged crimes had long since expired and because the archdiocese is an unincorporated association, not a corporation.

After the report was published, District Attorney Lynne Abraham's office added: “The archdiocese and its lawyers obstructed the grand jury's investigation at every turn,” a charge archdiocesan officials deny.

Philadelphia Archbishop Justin Rigali issued a public apology following the report, saying, “The archdiocese acknowledges and completely repents mistakes made in the handling of some cases.” The archdiocese, however, also filed a 73-page rebuttal to the grand jury document and church officials characterized the report as “vile,” “mean-spirited” and demonstrative of a “definite anti-Catholic bias.”

The Indianapolis Archdiocese currently faces a dozen lawsuits accusing various priests or ex-priests of sexually abusing children who are now adults. Thus far, the archdiocese has not paid to settle any previous molestation claims.

The most recent four plaintiffs, who filed separate suits in Marion County District Court, are represented by Patrick Noaker, a Minnesota attorney. He says his clients are among at least a dozen males who allegedly were molested by Monroe.

Ordained in 1974, Monroe served in five Indiana Catholic parishes until his priestly faculties were revoked in 1984 because of allegations of sexual misconduct. Only the Vatican can “de-frock” a priest and, according to the archdiocese, that appears not to have occurred in Monroe's case.

Monroe came to St. Patrick's Church in Terre Haute in 1979 after assignments in three Indianapolis parishes: St. Monica, St. Andrew and St. Catherine (now closed). He stayed here two years, serving as the youth minister. After sex abuse allegations by several parishioners, Monroe was placed on leave for a year in mid-1981. He spent what would be his final year as a priest in Perry County, serving three small parishes.

Along with Monroe, now 57, the Indianapolis Archdiocese is named as a defendant in the suits. Church officials are accused of negligence and fraud, among other charges, in failing to inform parishes of the priest's history and of repeatedly reassigning him.

In a news conference late last month, Noaker described two of his clients as altar boys at the time of the alleged abuse and said they had been given alcohol before being molested in the priest's residence or on camping trips to Turkey Run State Park.

According to Noaker and the archdiocese, Monroe is living in the Nashville, Tenn., area. Noaker said his investigators have found that the former priest is working in a mental health treatment center that, among other services, provides treatment for survivors of sexual abuse.

“I have clients who went through the program there,” he said.

The attorney added that he does not know in what capacity Monroe works at the center.

Efforts by the Tribune-Star to contact Monroe were unsuccessful. Neither of Monroe's attorneys of record, Julie Dixon and Brian Ciyou of Indianapolis, returned a telephone request for comment.

Susan Borcherts, spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said she could not comment on any specifics of the litigation, but she emphasized that the church long ago removed Monroe from his functions as a priest and that she believed chancery officials had not heard from him for many years.

In a 2002 letter to Melissa Limcaco, the Terre Haute mother of one of Monroe's alleged victims, archdiocese chancellor Suzanne Magnant (now Yakimchick) wrote that, since 1984, archdiocese officials “have refused to recommend Harry Monroe for any work in which he would be in contact with children.”

The archdiocese continues today to urge anyone who has been molested by any member of the Catholic clergy, religious or laity, to contact diocesan officials, Borcherts said. If present-day minors are involved, church officials automatically report accusations or reasonable suspicions to civil authorities as mandated by state law.

After the first two suits against Monroe were filed in September, Archbishop Daniel Buechlein ordered letters to be read aloud in each parish in which Monroe served, informing people about the lawsuits and restating archdiocesan sex abuse policies.

Noaker, an Indiana native, is with Jeff Anderson & Associates, P.A., a St. Paul-based national law firm that has brought dozens of cases against accused child molesters in Protestant and Catholic churches as well as in schools.

“What makes Catholic cases different is the actual complicity we've found by the hierarchy in the crimes,” Noaker said. “Occasionally, you'll see a school or other denomination that didn't take a perpetrator out after they knew, but not often. Can you imagine a school board or parents' group discussing what to do with a teacher who's known to be molesting kids and someone saying, “Well, you think if maybe we get him counseling, he'll be OK?'”

One of the Anderson firm's most recent endeavors was a $9 million settlement with the diocese of Davenport, Iowa.

“Yes, the money is significant, but it's important to know that 90 percent of the terms in that three-page settlement in Davenport are non-economic,” said Noaker.

Among the terms agreed to are a published list of priest perpetrators provided by the diocese and the building of a monument on diocesan property to atone for the victims' suffering.

“It's to be a sculpture of a millstone with that quote from the Bible inscribed,” said Noaker.

The quote is Matthew 18:6: “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for him that a huge millstone should be hung around his neck and that he should be sunk in the depths of the sea.”

Most of Noaker's clients, said the attorney, fit an all-too-common pattern: They were doing well in school and participated in church and social functions until “they just took this mysterious - at the time - turn.”

Many turned to alcohol or drugs, dropped out of school or couldn't stay in college or maintain relationships. Many never confided the abuse to parents or other clergy and “most of them have needed years of therapy,” sometimes accruing hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenses.

“The justice piece to these settlements is important: These folks were wronged and there has to be some process to right that,” Noaker said. “But people who come to me and talk about money, I tend not to take their case.

“What most of my clients need is to feel they've done something to keep this from happening to anyone else again. Prevention is a really big piece of this litigation. The fact is, the names of these perpetrators are not being released publicly - until you file a lawsuit.”

Stephanie Salter can be reached at (812) 231-4229 or

Story created Nov 07, 2005 - 09:24:01 CST.