Lexington Diocese Rejects Abuse Allegations And Reinstates Priest

(LEXINGTON, Ky., January 16th, 2004, 12:30 p.m.) -- The Roman Catholic Diocese of Lexington has reinstated a priest despite an allegation that he sexually abused an eastern Kentucky boy in the early 1970s.

Lexington Bishop Ronald Gainer said a diocesan committee ruled the claim against priest William Poole was "not credible," even though the Covington diocese reached a settlement with Poole's accuser last year.

"If I thought that there was a risk to children from William Poole, I would not have restored his faculties at all," Gainer said.

The Lexington diocese was formed in 1988 out of the Covington diocese. Officials at both dioceses offered no explanations as to why their opinions about the case differed.

The director of a nationwide victim-rights organization criticized Gainer's decision and said the bishop should have reported the accusations to law-enforcement authorities.

"There can be no clearer proof that their promises of so-called reform are hollow," said David Clohessy, director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "This is just adding insult to already horrific injury."

Lexington diocesan officials said it was the responsibility of the Covington diocese to report accusations of sex abuse to civil authorities. Dioceses are required to report such accusations under the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, a nationwide policy adopted by Roman Catholic bishops in 2002.

Lexington diocesan spokesman Tom Shaughnessy said that diocese will check with the Covington diocese to see if authorities were told of the allegations. If not, the Lexington diocese will do so, he said.

Both dioceses conducted investigations into the claim, which Shaughnessy said involved a 15-year-old boy and occurred about 1972. Poole then was a mission administrator for a church in Martin. Lexington diocesan officials said Poole's accuser would not cooperate with their investigator.

Poole, who served as a priest for four decades, has denied ever abusing anyone. He referred questions to the Covington and Lexington dioceses.

Poole is retired, but the reinstatement will allow him to fill in during services when a regular priest is sick or on vacation.

Poole twice has been charged with sex-related offenses at a local park. In May 2001, he was charged with disorderly conduct after an undercover officer saw him masturbating in a public restroom, according to an arrest report. Poole pleaded guilty and was fined $100 plus court costs, according to court records.

The diocese said Poole also was arrested in 1990 during a crackdown on prostitution at the park. Court records from that year were not available.

In September 2002, Poole received a 15-month suspension from public ministry and resigned his post at a Mount Sterling parish. That suspension was lifted Dec. 24.

"Father Poole is receiving professional help, and I've had two serious conversations with him about the obligations regarding his lifestyle, and I do trust that he will make every effort to live a life in accord with his priestly duties," Gainer said.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)