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11 allege a conspiracy in Dallas sex abuse trial

NCR Staff

Testimony from high church officials, hushed and tearful courtroom scenes, and threats of contempt against a former vicar general of the Dallas diocese have marked a sex abuse trial in Dallas that alleges the diocese engaged in an illegal civil conspiracy.

Defendants in the $146.5 million suit are the Dallas diocese and a suspended 52-year-old priest with a long history of alleged sexual abuse of minors. The 11 plaintiffs charge that the suspended priest, Rudolph "Rudy" Kos, molested altar boys in three Dallas parishes from 1981 to 1992, some as young as 9 years old.

Kos, who has admitted to some of the abuses, is expected to be tried on criminal charges in July.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs have argued that the priest's questionable history, which included a year in juvenile detention for molesting a neighbor, was known to his brothers and to his former wife before he entered the seminary in 1976. That history would have been apparent to diocesan officials had they followed up on hints of problems and conducted a reasonable background check, the plaintiffs charge.

One of the victims committed suicide in 1992 at age 20. His parents are plaintiffs in the suit, which went to trial in mid-May and was expected to continue at least until late June.

Sylvia Demarest of Dallas, attorney for three of the plaintiffs, told NCR the case will prove to be a landmark if the 10-woman, two-man jury agrees with plaintiffs that church officials are guilty of "civil conspiracy"; that is, of fraud, misrepresentation and conspiring to conceal damaging information about illegal sexual activies by three priests. That finding could benefit other victims who are prevented by statutes of limitations from going to trial, she said.

Randal Mathis, attorney for the diocese, has described allegations of conspiracy as "ludicrous."

Demarest claimed that Kos' history of attraction to young boys predates his seminary days and had been communicated to church officials in Dallas by his former wife when he petitioned for a marriage annulment so he could enter the seminary.

Demarest and Windle Turley, attorney for the eight other plaintiffs, have argued that when Kos applied to Holy Trinity Seminary at the University of Dallas in the late 1970s, his sexual history would have been apparent to the diocese if they had conducted a reasonable inquiry into his past.

In an interview with NCR, Demarest said the marriage tribunal had not performed the usual steps required under canon law, which might have led to further revelations. She said Kos' former wife had not been invited to participate in the standard interrogatory procedure, had not been notified that an annulment was granted and had not been told of her right to appeal, Demarest said.

Kos' brothers testified on videotape that he had spent a year in juvenile detention center as a youth for molesting a young neighbor. According to The Dallas Morning News, the brothers said they would have told diocesan officials that Kos was unfit for the priesthood had they been asked.

Kos, who lives in San Diego, has already been found liable because he did not respond to the lawsuits. The trial is to determine whether the diocese is also responsible and to assess damages. Two other cases of sexual abuse by Dallas priests are pending in the same state district court.

Diocesan officials have argued that the diocese acted responsibly because it suspended Kos in 1992, as soon as it had proper evidence. According to the Morning News, officials contend they were unable to remove Kos or to conduct an investigation without a direct complaint from a victim, even though diocesan priests repeatedly expressed concerns about Kos' activities to officials over a seven-year period. Mathis was reported as saying, "We as a diocese have egg on our faces. ... We are embarrassed, upset and regretful." But the diocese had not been negligent, he said.

On June 3, Fr. Thomas Doyle, a canon lawyer, testified that church officials did not have to wait until they had a complaint from a youth. Doyle, an Air Force chaplain, was formerly with the Vatican Embassy in Washington. According to the Morning News, he said the church nationwide has engaged in a "pattern of secrecy" by withholding information from civil authorities and parishioners.

Plaintiffs in Dallas have described genital massage, oral sex and anal sex -- sometimes accompanied by alcohol or drugs. One plaintiff said he had been sexually abused as many as 500 times, up to four times a week beginning when he was 13 and continuing for nine years, according to the Morning News, and another said he had been abused at least 350 times.

One of the plaintiffs is a man who lived with Kos at his rectory for two years in the mid-1980s under the ruse that the priest had legally adopted him. The arrangement was the subject of an article in The Texas Catholic at the time.

According to the Morning News, one plaintiff testified that Kos had telephoned him regularly while under treatment for pedophilia at a now closed center for priests with sexual disorders run by the Servants of the Paraclete in New Mexico, and that the priest had abused him twice while on leave from the center.

One pastor, Fr. Daniel Clayton, testified that his concerns about Kos in 1986 had prompted him to repeatedly confront Kos, and to keep a detailed log of boys' visits to his rectory room at St. Luke's parish. According to the Morning News, he said he wrote to Bishop Thomas Tschoepe, head of the diocese at the time, about the problem. According to the newspaper, Msgr. Robert Rehkemper, then vicar general, wrote a memo to himself saying Kos' behavior was "just suspicious," but that there was "no evidence" he was an abuser. However, Rehkemper warned Kos that he could be suspended if boys continued to sleep overnight in his rooms.

During his questioning by Demarest at the trial, Rehkemper was threatened by Judge Anne Ashby with contempt of court for refusing to answer questions directly.

Testimony has revealed that the diocesan personnel committee was also aware of growing concerns that Kos might be a pedophile.

Nevertheless, in 1988, Kos was transferred to St. John's Catholic Church in Ennis and promoted to pastor. There Kos, said to be charming and persuasive, restructured the youth program and, according to testimony, discouraged both girls and parents from becoming involved. Fr. Robert Williams, assigned to St. John's as associate pastor, said he had been alarmed from his first day at the parish. According to the Morning News, Williams testified that Kos had lured boys to his room with candy, movies and video games. Williams said he had repeatedly confronted Kos about his behavior and had met several times with Rehkemper.

According to news accounts, Williams also wrote a 12-page letter to Bishop Charles Grahmann, Tschoepe's successor in 1990, telling him, among other things, that Kos would hug young boys by rubbing them against himself "almost like they were a towel in which he was drying himself." In August 1992, Williams asked to meet personally with Grahmann, who told him the diocese was unable to take any action against Kos because psychiatric reports had cleared him.

Church officials testified that two psychiatrists who examined Kos had said he was not a pedophile. However, a social worker who specialized in pedophilia told diocesan officials that Kos was a "classic textbook pedophile," according to the Morning News.

Later in 1992, when the first youth came forward with a complaint, and with threats of a lawsuit growing, Kos was removed from St. John's and sent to the treatment center in New Mexico. Only then did diocesan officials notify civil authorities of the alleged abuse. State law requires immediate reporting when child abuse is suspected.

Parishioners were told that Kos was leaving voluntarily to seek treatment for stress. Williams testified that he was angry about the deception, the Morning News reported.

National Catholic Reporter, June 20, 1997