Catholic Church requests records on priest accuser’s personal life

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — St. Charles Preparatory is a competitive Catholic high school in Columbus, Ohio.

It’s where a man who spoke anonymously with KXAN says he was molested by a priest as a freshman back in 2002 and 2003.

He contacted a lawyer and is suing the Diocese of Columbus and the school because of the alleged sex abuse.

Now the accuser says attorneys for the Diocese have requested records about his personal life and his time in Austin.

A Diocese spokesperson told KXAN it declined to comment on the ongoing case.

‘Pretty early on I felt uncomfortable’

The accuser, now in his 30s, said he had dreams of becoming a public defender when he was enrolled at St. Charles Prep nearly two decades ago.

The school had a reputation for being academically rigorous and competitive, he told us over Skype.

“They created this pressure-cooker environment where you had a lot of kids spending a lot of hours at the school unsupervised with priests,” he said.

The accuser says Monsignor Thomas Bennett was well-known on campus. (Photo/St. Charles Preparatory School)
The accuser says Monsignor Thomas Bennett was well-known on campus. (Photo/St. Charles Preparatory School)

Monsignor Thomas Bennett taught at the school for more than 40 years, according to the Diocese of Columbus. He passed away in 2008.

The accuser described him as a larger-than-life figure at St. Charles, and said he felt uncomfortable around the priest nearly right away.

“Physically, he was very imposing,” said the accuser. “With the exception of the principal, [he was] the authority figure on campus.”

The accuser says he never had a class taught by Bennett, but says the priest molested him multiple times that year, including during study hall.

“I was confused, and I didn’t feel like I could tell anybody,” he said.

The accuser says during high school, he moved to Austin and repressed the memories of Monsignor Bennett and the alleged abuse.

He says he used alcohol and hard drugs to cope.

“I made a pretty serious suicide attempt, took an overdose of sleeping pills,” he said.

He was expelled from a local high school, went to rehab and relapsed over the next few years.

He was arrested but says a moment of clarity came in a Travis County Jail cell.

“I realized I had just gotten way too used to that lifestyle,” said the former St. Charles student.

Calling the alleged abuse the “single most significant thing” that happened in his life, the accuser says he felt powerless and confused through much of his teenage years.

As a sober adult, he says he made the decision to contact the school but felt he wasn’t taken seriously.

“They didn’t acknowledge that it happened, but apologized if I felt uncomfortable,” he said.

When the Diocese released its list of credibly accused clergy last year, Monsignor Thomas Bennett’s name wasn’t there.

It has since been updated to mention the allegation against Bennett, but says because “this matter is in litigation, a credibility determination has not been made.”

The lawsuit

That’s when the accuser says he contacted an attorney.

The 2018 complaint says that the Diocese and the school failed to “report Bennett’s illegal and harmful conduct, by concealing such conduct.”

A plaque dedicating a courtyard to Msgr. Bennett at St. Charles Prep. (WCMH Photo)
A plaque dedicating a courtyard to Msgr. Bennett at St. Charles Prep. (WCMH Photo)

The complaint goes on to say the Diocese “maintained a web of predatory priests who perpetrated criminal acts of child abuse throughout Ohio for over fifty years.”

The accuser seeks more than $2 million in damages.

Over the course of the pending lawsuit, KXAN obtained court documents that show the Diocese of Columbus requested records from the accuser’s mother and Austin Community College, where he briefly attended.

“They dug through quite a bit of my personal life,” he said.

It is not uncommon for dioceses to request extensive personal information from accusers, including educational history, employment history, medical history, criminal history, or residential history.

In this case, documents show the Diocese of Columbus requested his records related to substance abuse, psychological treatment and communications related to St. Charles Preparatory School and Monsignor Bennett.

“I’ve been told by multiple friends and partners they’ve been contacted and asked if I was making this up,” he said.

The accuser’s attorney tells KXAN an Ohio judge has ordered the Diocese of Columbus to hand over documents on 15 clergy members other than Monsignor Bennett.

The case is headed to court this coming August. The Diocese said it does not comment on pending litigation.

The accuser’s attorney tells us he is also representing another man, Ken Wilcox, in a case against Monsignor Bennett.

‘I want kids to feel like they can come forward’

The accuser says he’d like to get a degree from a four-year university, attend graduate school, and become a guidance counselor for kids with difficult upbringings.

However, he says his experiences at St. Charles Prep have made getting an education challenging.

“I still get very uncomfortable and stick to my stomach anytime I have to go onto a school ground,” he said.

He says he hopes more victims of abuse will come forward, so people can get a better sense of how widespread the problem is.

“I want kids to feel like they can come forward when that happens and be believed, so it doesn’t escalate.”

Photojournalist Juan Salinas, Investigative Producer Anthony Cave and Digital Executive Producer Kate Winkle contributed to this report.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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