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Reporter's trial notes


During 11 weeks of the clergy sex abuse trial in Dallas, retired Bishop Thomas Tschoepe remained out of sight, though he led the Dallas diocese in the years that most of the abuse by Fr. Rudolph Kos occurred. Plaintiffs' attorneys were told that he has Alzheimer's disease. The diocese countered a subpoena with a physician's affidavit.

Yet, according to a posttrial account in The Dallas Morning News, Tschoepe, retired since 1990, keeps a full schedule at St. Joseph's Church in Waxahachie, Texas. He drives a car, says Mass about 10 times a week and assists with other parish work. He sometimes fills in for his successor, Bishop Charles V. Grahmann. People interviewed at the parish said Tschoepe has no apparent health or memory problems.

Asked why he hadn't testified, Tschoepe told a reporter for the Dallas paper, before driving off, "My memory's not good. That's going way back. I don't have anything to say. I stayed out of [the trial]. I told them I wasn't going to [testify]."

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Kos served a year in juvenile detention at age 17 for molesting a neighbor's son. His ex-wife, in testimony to have the marriage annulled in 1975 so Kos could enter seminary, said he was gay and "has problems with boys." Abuse of altar boys by Kos reportedly began in Dallas parishes in 1981 and continued after Grahmann assumed leadership of the diocese in 1990.

In 1992, months before Kos was removed, a social worker evaluating Kos described him as a "textbook pedophile." Two months later -- with Kos still serving as pastor of a Dallas parish -- he was evaluated at St. Luke's Institute in Maryland, where a psychiatrist recommended a test to determine whether he was sexually aroused by pictures of nude boys.

Grahmann said he had "moral problems" with the test, which involved attaching a sensor to Kos' penis. "The end never justifies the means," Grahmann said in court.

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Letters to archdiocesan officials from priests concerned about Kos' relationships with boys began in 1986. In June 1992 Fr. Robert Williams sent Grahmann a 12-page letter detailing his concerns. Grahmann testified in court that he never read the letter.

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During and since the trial Grahmann has steadfastly declined to talk to reporters. Diocesan officials told CBS producer John Mondello that the bishop is "a shy man from a small town," by way of explaining why the bishop would not be able to appear on a CBS news program after the trial.

But another key to Grahmann's personality lurked in a seven-year-old newspaper clipping, perhaps helping to explain why he had allowed the case to proceed to trial, given the weight of apparent evidence in favor of the plaintiffs.

When Grahmann was named bishop in 1990, the diocesan newspaper, The Texas Catholic, published the obligatory special supplement introducing the new leader.

There Grahmann was described by an old friend as a man who relishes defeating opponents when he plays cards, who wants to catch the biggest fish when he goes fishing, a man who plays to win.

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When the National Conference of Catholic Bishops held its annual summer meeting in Kansas City in June, this reporter had just returned from hearing testimony in Dallas. At a reception hosted by NCR and two diocesan newspapers, she was approached by Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe, N.M., who boasted that serious financial problems related to clergy sex abuse had been resolved. (In 1994 the archdiocese faced claims amounting to $50 million in more than 110 cases, many involving priests undergoing treatment at a center operated by Servants of the Paraclete in Jemez Springs, N.M. The diocese avoided bankruptcy by selling property and appealing to parishioners and other dioceses for funds.)

Without a hint of consternation, Sheehan went on to say that he had been rector of Holy Trinity Seminary in Dallas when Rudolph Kos was admitted in 1977.

"In the four years he was in seminary, I never saw a problem," said Sheehan, who later testified at the trial in Dallas.

What he didn't say was that Kos had been rejected a year earlier, in 1976, by the previous rector, the Rev. Gerald Hughes. Hughes said Kos had too many problems.

Plaintiff's attorneys contend that a growing priest shortage -- and officials' desire to boost vocations -- led to a lack of vigilance.

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Sparring among lawyers often exacerbated tension during the trial. In one morning flap mid-trial, plaintiffs' attorney Windle Turley objected strenuously, outside jurors' earshot, to an attempt by Randal Mathis, attorney for the diocese, to put a thick, annotated volume of canon law on a table where it would be in full view of the jury.

"He's just trying to make it look to the jury like that's some big, complicated book of laws that nobody could possibly understand," Turley said before the jury entered the courtroom. "Only a few pages of canon law have been entered as evidence." Judge Anne Ashby told Mathis to put the book away.

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At a break in the trial, after listening to some particularly wrenching testimony from one of the victims, this reporter asked Mathis if the diocese felt, or had shown, any compassion for the victims. "How do you define compassion," Mathis shot back. "The word has no legal meaning. I'd go so far as to say the question is absurd."

Later, Mathis pointed out that the diocese had given each of the victims $8,000 for counseling before the trial began. (Based on testimony from experts, the jury awarded amounts ranging from $200,000 to $500,000 to each of the plaintiffs for medical treatment and counseling and up to $2 million per plaintiff for loss of future earning capacity.)

Mathis had often accused plaintiffs' attorneys Sylvia Demarest and Windle Turley of "badgering" witnesses during the trial -- particularly church officials who had a hard time giving straight answers.

Turley told NCR that he had been surprised at the evasiveness of some of the officials. "Any lawyer knows that evasiveness is the death of a witness," he said.

On the other hand, he said, officials were almost forced to equivocate. "Sylvia and I were asking some very tough questions, and a straight yes or no would have been very damaging," he said.

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A plank in efforts to prove a conspiratorial cover-up of the sexual abuse: Of 260 treatment sessions, some with clergy accused of sexual abuse, others with victims, therapist Ray K. McNamara was able to produce only 11 records of those sessions. Attorneys had accused the diocese of "spoilation" of evidence and accused McNamara of failing to disclose to a victim that the therapist was being paid by the diocese to treat his abuser. McNamara -- a defendant himself in two other lawsuits -- allegedly warned the victim that it would harm him psychologically to testify against the priest.

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The trial's most macabre moment: When Nancy Lemberger testified that Kos had accepted her family's invitation to deliver the homily at their son's funeral, not suspecting then what she (and jurors) are convinced of now: that sexual abuse by Kos had left their gifted son, Jay, so troubled and confused that at age 21 he fatally shot himself in a Denver park.

National Catholic Reporter, August 15, 1997