Lexington priest suspended after abuse alleged

jwarren@herald-leader.comJuly 13, 2009 

The Catholic Diocese of Lexington said Sunday that it has placed the pastor of Mary Queen of the Holy Rosary parish on administrative leave, after allegations that he engaged in sexual misconduct while serving as an associate pastor in Frankfort during the mid-1980s.

The Rev. Joseph N. Muench was suspended from regular ministerial duties after an internal investigation, which was prompted by a letter the diocese received in March from a Louisville attorney representing three men who made allegations against Muench, diocese spokesman Thomas Shaughnessy said.

The diocese has forwarded its findings in a letter to the office of Franklin County Commonwealth's Attorney Larry Cleveland, Shaughnessy said Sunday afternoon.

Muench, 54, is prohibited from residing in any rectory or conducting any public ministry while he is on administrative leave.

Muench, pronounced "minch," has been pastor of Mary Queen for about four years, Shaughnessy said.

According to the diocese, the case concerns incidents alleged to have occurred in the 1980s while Muench was associate pastor of the Good Shepherd parish in Frankfort. Muench was associate pastor there from 1984 to 1986, when the parish was part of the Diocese of Covington.

The Diocese of Lexington was established in 1988.

An announcement of Muench's suspension was made at Sunday-morning Mass in all six churches in the diocese where he has served. The Most Rev. Ronald Gainer, bishop of the Diocese of Lexington, personally made the announcement at Mary Queen while saying Mass there Sunday morning.

According to Shaughnessy, the case began when Gainer received a letter from Louisville attorney B. Keith Saksefski, who represents the three men who brought allegations against Muench.

Shaughnessy said Nelda Jackson, the diocese victim assistance coordinator, has contacted Saksefski to offer assistance and support to the three men.

Saksefski could not be reached Sunday.

"Immediately after receiving the allegations, we engaged the services of a local private investigator," Shaughnessy said.

He said the investigator then launched an inquiry, including interviews with the three men who made the original complaints.

The investigator then submitted a report to Gainer and to the advisory Diocesan Review Board.

According to a statement from the diocese, the review board met last Wednesday and determined that the "preliminary investigation of the allegations possessed a semblance of truth" that warranted further investigation and suspension of Muench.

Gainer then suspended Muench at the board's recommendation, Shaughnessy said.

He said the diocese was obligated to inform the Franklin County commonwealth's attorney under provisions of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which sets procedures when allegations of sexual abuse or misconducted are leveled against a priest.

The diocese is continuing its own investigation, Shaughnessy said.

Shaughnessy said that anyone who has been the victim of sexual abuse or misconduct by church personnel or who knows someone who has should contact the diocese victim assistance coordinator at (859) 253-1993, Ext. 214, or njackson@cdlex.org.

Reach Jim Warren at (859) 231-3255 or 1-800-950-6397 Ext. 3255