KANSAS CITY, Mo (Reuters) - A Missouri couple has filed a lawsuit against their Catholic diocese and a former monsignor, saying their son’s 1983 suicide was the result of years of repeated sexual abuse by the now-retired priest.
The wrongful death suit against the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph seeks unspecified damages stemming from the death of Brian Teeman, who shot himself at age 14 after facing what the suit described as repeated abuse by former Monsignor Thomas J. O’Brien in the church sacristy, starting at age 11.
The lawsuit comes less than a month after federal child pornography charges were filed against Shawn Ratigan, another former diocese priest. A former U.S. attorney hired to review the Ratigan case faulted the diocese last week for being slow to act on credible allegations against him.
The suit represents a new twist in the sexual abuse scandal that has rocked the Roman Catholic Church both in the United States and abroad for two decades.
The crisis has stoked outrage with the church’s leadership, and triggered a flood of lawsuits that have cost the church billions of dollars and put the its all-male, celibate priesthood under scrutiny.
Donald and Rosemary Teeman filed the wrongful death suit on Tuesday in Jackson County Circuit Court, where the diocese has faced many other sexual abuse lawsuits in recent years — but not for wrongful deaths.
Such suits anywhere are rare, especially when suicide is involved, said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
“Instead of being paralyzed by their pain, the Teemans are warning others about a child molesting cleric and a corrupt Catholic hierarchy,” Clohessy said on Wednesday.
“We applaud them for their courage and their compassion.”
Rebecca Summers, spokeswoman for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, released a statement saying the diocese had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment.
The diocese, however, acknowledged it had received a complaint in 1983 about O’Brien committing sexual misconduct with a teenage boy. The priest denied it, but was sent for treatment. He returned in June 1984 and was assigned to duty as a part-time hospital chaplain.
That ended in 2002, when he was told he could no longer serve as a priest. O’Brien has been named in multiple lawsuits alleging sexual abuse. He has denied allegations.
The Teemans say the diocese had sexual abuse complaints dating back to the early 1970s about O’Brien and failed to act. They said the diocese should have known that allowing him access to children “involved an unreasonable risk of causing emotional distress and severe injury to (Brian)”.
The boy died “as a direct and proximate result of the abuses,” the lawsuit said.
The Teemans said they did not know their son was sexually abused until a former classmate told them in July of this year that he witnessed the abuse.
O’Brien forced silence on the boys “by telling them that they would be kicked out of the Catholic Church, they would go directly to hell and their parents would disown them,” the suit said.
Editing by James B. Kelleher and Cynthia Johnston