Lawsuit against Nashville, Tennessee Diocese seeks $35 million for molestations by priest

Lawsuit against Nashville, Tennessee Diocese seeks $35 million for molestations by priest

Diocese hiding assets, plaintiffs say

Defendant in molestation case says worth accurately reported

By SHEILA BURKE

Staff Writer

Published: Thursday, 06/16/05

Lawyers representing two molestation victims in a lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Nashville are accusing church officials of hiding millions of dollars’ worth of assets that they believe should be considered at an upcoming trial.

But church officials said yesterday they have done nothing wrong and have complied with a judge’s order to provide an accurate accounting of how much the diocese is worth.

The dispute revolves around one central question: What constitutes property owned by the diocese?

Lawyers suing the church maintain that individual parishes, such as Nashville’s Christ the King and St. Henry’s churches, take their direction from the bishop who heads the diocese. The lawyers believe the parishes are the property of the diocese, but officials with the Catholic Diocese of Nashville say each parish is a separate financial entity.

The plaintiffs also accuse the diocese of transferring some of its assets to the parishes in recent years to protect them in the event of a civil judgment.

In court documents, plaintiffs’ lawyers point to a number of circumstances in which former bishops are listed in Davidson County tax records as owners of parishes or other real estate. One of the bishops has been dead since 1923.

“The diocese knows that, as a matter of (church) law and otherwise, property is often held in the name of the bishop for the benefit of the diocese,” the plaintiffs’ lawyers wrote in court papers.

But a spokesman for the diocese said that’s not true.

“The independent auditors have never thought of this as diocesan property,” church spokesman Rick Musacchio said.

The properties would have been held in trust by the bishop and owned by the parish, the spokesman said. The parishes would not have necessarily transferred the name of the bishop on the deed, he said.

“The important thing is that properties of parishes belong to the parish; they don’t belong to the diocese,” Musacchio said. “And the diocese itself really owns very few properties.”

Lawyers for the plaintiffs also accuse the diocese of transferring some of its assets to the parishes in recent years to protect them in the event of a civil judgment.

But diocese officials said auditors never considered these properties to belong to the diocese anyway.

The names on the titles

have been adjusted to reflect the true owners of the properties in a process that began long before the lawsuit was filed.

Davidson County Circuit Judge Walter Kurtz will have to decide whether the parishes should be included in the diocese’s financial tally. A hearing is scheduled next week.

The dispute is among a series of legal maneuvers in a civil trial scheduled to begin in October.

The case involves two young men, known in court documents only as John Doe 1 and John Doe 2, who are suing the diocese for $68 million.

The men say they were molested as boys by former Nashville Catholic priest Ed McKeown, who is serving a 25-year prison sentence for molesting and raping one of the plaintiffs.

The young men say they were abused from 1995 to 1999 after McKeown left the church and moved into the mobile home park where they lived.

Church officials maintain that the abuse occurred years after McKeown was forced to leave the priesthood in 1989 and they should not be held responsible.

Jurors will have to consider whether the diocese should be held liable even though McKeown had left the priesthood and church officials had no direct knowledge of whether McKeown was molesting the two plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers argue that church officials knew that McKeown was a pedophile, had been warned that he would continue to abuse children and failed to prevent him from molesting other boys in the community.

At one point, the diocese had sent McKeown to Connecticut for treatment of sexual disorders.

The diocese maintains that church officials contacted the Department of Human Services to report that McKeown was a child molester.

The plaintiffs say no such record exists.

Published: Thursday, 06/16/05

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