Legal battle pits law against church _lowres (copy)

This Dec. 1, 2012 photo shows a silhouette of a crucifix and a stained glass window inside a Catholic Church in New Orleans.

Catholic Church officials in New Orleans have settled a lawsuit accusing a priest and a deacon of sexually abusing a boy at a Treme parish in the 1980s.

The priest, Kenneth Hamilton of the Society of the Divine Word religious order, and the now-retired deacon, Lloyd Glapion, both have denied wrongdoing, the Archdiocese of New Orleans said in a statement Thursday.

Nonetheless, the archdiocese said it reached a settlement with the plaintiff for undisclosed terms on Wednesday and announced it to the public “in a spirit of transparency.”

“Our prayers are with all those who have been harmed by church leaders,” the archdiocese said.

The case, filed in 2015, centered on allegations of abuse at St. Augustine Catholic Church, 1210 Gov. Nicholls Street. The church is a separate institution from the high school of the same name in the 7th Ward.

Most of the lawsuit's pleadings remained under seal Thursday. But one document that wasn’t sealed accused church officials of “failure to protect the (plaintiff) … from sexual abuses at the hands of clergy” who it alleges weren't properly investigated before their ordination.

Documents also contended that the plaintiff was owed damages after he suffered “sexual, physical, and/or mental abuses” as a result. They singled out Glapion and Hamilton as defendants along with the archdiocese and the Divine Word order. 

The plaintiff’s legal team, led by attorney James Williams, couldn’t be reached for comment.

The Advocate is not identifying the plaintiff because of a policy against naming victims of sexual abuse without their permission.

Neither Glapion nor Hamilton was on the list published Nov. 2 by Archbishop Gregory Aymond that named 57 clergymen in the New Orleans area who the church says were credibly accused of sexually abusing minors.

Hamilton was most recently listed as a staff member at a church in Oakland, California. But an official reached on Thursday said he wasn't working there.

Hamilton said he has never been served with the plaintiff's lawsuit but asserted Thursday that the allegations against him were false.

“I wasn’t even there,” said Hamilton, who described himself as semi-retired. “(Suing the church) is a big industry. People want money. Some of these people are actual victims, which is too bad because their cases are subsumed.”

The archdiocese said it was up to Hamilton’s order to handle any discipline against him.

Glapion retired in 1999 "and has been out of ministry for many years," the archdiocese said.

Neither the order nor Glapion could be reached for comment.

The case is among numerous decades-old allegations of clerical abuse in New Orleans and across the U.S. that Catholic officials have acknowledged amid a push from victims and their advocates to publicize the claims.

Aymond released his list partially as a bid to win back the trust of local Catholics disgusted by a Pennsylvania grand jury report this summer that exposed undisclosed sex abuse allegations involving hundreds of priests there. That report helped reignite a sex abuse and cover-up scandal that first erupted in earnest in Boston in 2002.

The church adopted policies beginning in 2002 that required officials to be transparent about abuse cases, but officials haven’t always adhered to those guidelines through the years.

Still, Thursday’s announcement about the suit against Hamilton and Glapion seemed to have been released in the spirit of those policies.

The 143-year-old, Dutch-founded Society of the Divine Word had one priest — Andrew Masters — on Aymond's list. 

The religious orders with the most priests on that list were the Salesians and the Jesuits, with eight and six, respectively. 

St. Augustine Church was established by free African-Americans in 1841, many years before slavery in the U.S. was abolished. The church’s website describes St. Augustine as the nation’s oldest African-American Catholic church.

Follow Ramon Antonio Vargas on Twitter, @RVargasAdvocate.

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