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After legal settlement, still waiting for honest accounting

The civil case against suspended priest Rudolph “Rudy” Kos, accused of molesting minors over a period of 12 years in three parishes, appears to be reaching some manner of resolution with the settlement of $7.5 million to three of 11 plaintiffs.

One hopes that settlements with the remaining plaintiffs occur quickly and that justice will be done without bankrupting the diocese.

As one of the first three plaintiffs to settle explained, the dispute is not with the ordinary faithful, who would ultimately be affected by huge settlements, but with the administrators whose gross negligence allowed the abuse to go on.

Those who dealt with the earliest priest sex abuse scandals in other parts of the country claimed that in reassigning accused priests they had acted in good faith and according to the current understanding of professionals. No such excuse can be advanced today.

According to testimony during the civil trial last June, as recounted in previous NCR stories, Dallas accepted Kos as a seminarian even though he had just annulled his marriage, and his wife and brothers had told tribunal personnel that Kos had an attraction to boys. The brothers testified that they would have been willing to tell diocesan officials more about Kos and his dangerous behavior if they had been asked.

Fr. Daniel Clayton testified that in 1986, well after such scandals had broken nationally, he had warned then Bishop Thomas Tschoepe about Kos. Clayton testified he had kept a detailed log of boys’ visits to Kos’ rectory room at St. Luke’s parish. He told Tschoepe that he had repeatedly confronted Kos. But officials, in particular Msgr. Robert Rehkemper, then vicar general, deemed that Kos’ behavior was “just suspicious” and that “no evidence” existed that he was an abuser.

Members of the diocesan personnel committee were aware of the concerns that Kos might be a sex abuser but did not stop his promotion to pastor.

At his new pastorate, according to testimony, the charming and persuasive Kos rearranged youth activities, discouraging both girls and parents from becoming involved. Fr. Robert Williams, assigned to St. John’s as associate pastor, told the court that from his first day there he was alarmed at Kos’ behavior.

According to news accounts, Williams testified that Kos lured boys to his room with candy, movies and video games. Williams repeatedly confronted Kos and met several times with Rehkemper. Further, he wrote a 12-page letter to Bishop Charles Grahmann, who replaced Tschoepe in 1990.

It was not until one of the victims complained that the diocese took action.

Sex abuse is a nightmare for administrators because it is by nature a secretive crime. Without witnesses or evidence, bishops often are expected to pick through thickets of conflicting rights: the basic presumption of innocence for the priest and the protection of children from sexual predators.

In the Kos case, however, the two bishops appear to have received an unusual amount of warning. Grahmann made a highly publicized public apology to 300 people at a Catholic fundraiser as the trial was underway. But we are still left asking what he apologized for. He made general statements about not being “alert” or “on guard” and about the need to show compassion, but neither he nor his predecessor ever expressed any culpability for what went on.

It’s as if bishops are the absolute pastors, autonomous within their dioceses and overseers of all that goes on, until something like this happens. And then responsibility diffuses into thin air.

The apology was further discredited when it was learned that Grahmann attended a private meeting of powerful laymen to plan an aggressive legal and public relations campaign designed to discredit and eventually overturn the jury’s $119.6 million judgment against the diocese (NCR, Sept. 5, 1997).

The American bishops have worked hard to develop strategies for dealing with the sex abuse problem, but they have done little to convince the faithful that they would stand accountable in any way except to show up in court for what occurs under their governance.

The Texas plaintiffs may feel vindicated by the monetary awards, but the rest of the church waits for an honest accounting -- some word from the pastor’s heart.

National Catholic Reporter, March 20, 1998