Lawsuit claims Missouri priest fathered parishioner's child

KANSAS CITY, Mo Tue Sep 27, 2011 11:05am EDT

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KANSAS CITY, Mo (Reuters) - Already under fire as a number of priests face accusations of sexual improprieties with children, the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph now confronts allegations one of its priests fathered a child.

A Missouri man has filed a lawsuit claiming that Joseph Matt, a priest who continues to serve on the diocese marriage tribunal, fathered his wife's son seven years ago. The plaintiff filed the suit anonymously so as to protect the boy's identity, he said.

In the lawsuit filed in Cass County Circuit Court, the man says his wife turned to Matt for support after she lost her job with the diocese and that they carried on a sexual relationship in 2004 and 2005. She and her family were parishioners at his former church.

"Defendant Matt falsely represented to the entire family that he was providing spiritual counseling, comfort, mentoring and advice," the lawsuit states. The plaintiff said he learned through a paternity test in late 2010 that the boy is Matt's son.

The man and his three children are seeking unspecified damages in the lawsuit, which names Matt and the diocese as defendants. Matt did not return a phone call Monday or Tuesday to his church seeking comment on the lawsuit. He is a priest at St. Joseph the Worker Church in Independence, Missouri, outside of Kansas City.

In a prepared statement, the diocese said it became aware in September 2010 that Matt may have fathered the boy.

Bishop Robert Finn suspended him from his ministerial duty the next month, apologized to the family and offered to pay for counseling, the statement said. His suspension and the general reason were announced to parishioners at the time, the diocese said.

In February, "Bishop Finn came to an agreement with Father Matt about expectations for his return to ministry," the statement said. He is again serving at the church, St. Joseph the Worker in Independence, and is one of several members of the Diocesan Tribunal, a church court that reviews issues that include marriage, the diocese said.

The diocese is reeling from a series of lawsuits regarding sexual misconduct with minors, including one recent case of a priest charged with possessing child pornography. The diocese has been sued frequently in cases involving priests sexually abusing youths, mostly boys.

"We feel sad for parishioners who must feel battered and betrayed by each revelation," David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said Tuesday.

"Instead of making them feel helpless, we hope these horrific disclosures prompt them to reach out more aggressively to find and help others who have been hurt by clerics."

(Writing and reporting by Kevin Murphy; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Jerry Norton)

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