INDEPENDENCE, Mo. (CN) - The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights defamed a man who says he is a victim of priestly sex abuse as a drug-abusing murderer and a Catholic-hating bigot, the man claims in court.
Jon David Couzens Jr. sued The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, its President William Donohue, the KC Catholic League, KC Catholic League President Joe McLiney and KC Catholic League Capacity Secretary James O'Laughlin, in Jackson County Circuit Court.
Couzens claims Donohue defamed him in statements responding to the Kansas City Star's three-part series on priestly abuse, written by Judy Thomas in December 2011.
The series centered around Couzens' claims - and subsequent lawsuit against the KC Diocese, Msgr. Thomas O'Brien and Fr. Isaac True - that he and three other altar boys, one of whom committed suicide, were sexually abused in the early 1980s.
"Thomas' entire soap-opera yarn concerns the allegations of Jon David Couzens," Donohue said in a statement posted on the Catholic League's website.
"He says that a priest molested him and three other altar boys back in the early 1980s. But why should we believe a man who only now is coming forward with his tale - he never told a single soul - especially given the fact that he has been implicated in a murder? Thomas never told readers that on the night Mark Trader was murdered about a dozen years ago, Couzens got into a fight with him over a botched drug deal, and although another man was convicted, on appeal it was alleged that Couzens and two other men had 'motive to commit the murder and the opportunity to do so.' This is public record, so why the cover up?"
Couzens' attorney, Rebecca Randles, told Courthouse News she has no idea where Donohue came up with the drug and murder implications. Randles said in an interview that that to her knowledge Couzens has never been subject to any drug or murder-related charges.
In the lawsuit, Couzens claims that he reported Trader's murder in April 1992 to police, after the killer confessed to him. He claims in the lawsuit that he received a commendation from now-Sen. Claire McCaskill for his good citizenship in the murder investigation and trial.
Donohue ramped up his criticism in another statement on Dec. 8, 2011, speculating on the timing of Couzens' abuse lawsuit with the emergence of a lawsuit filed earlier that year against the K.C. Diocese and priest Shawn Ratigan. That lawsuit claimed the Diocese waited nearly 6 months before reporting child pornography found on Ratigan's computer.
"Couzens may be a hero to the Star, but his character is indeed questionable: he was implicated in a murder," Donohue said in the statement. "Why hasn't the Star revealed this to its readers? Does it want to 'silence' its critics? Why did Couzens wait 30 years before he told his 'wrenching' tale? Because the time was ripe to cash in after Fr. Ratigan's name hit the papers?"
Randles said her client is not a gold-digger, and that the 30-year delay that Donohue finds suspicious is actually quite normal.
"If the memories are repressed or suppressed, there is no way to bring forth the accusations earlier," Randles said in the interview. "Also, the average age of (priest) abuse is 12. The average age to report is 42. So 30 years is a common time frame."
Couzens claims that Donohue's statements falsely portray him as a drug-abusing killer and a Catholic hating bigot. Donohue's statements were intended to incite and inflame people to confront Couzens, the lawsuit states.
As a result, Couzens says, he has been physically assaulted, cursed at on the streets, suffered emotional distress and loss of enjoyment of life.
Couzens said in a statement that he did not come forward just for himself.
"In the big picture it is a very sad thing that William Donohue and the Catholic League are attacking those who the Priesthood has already abused," Couzens said in the statement. "I am not doing this just for me. I now understand why other victims don't come forward. The things said about me are so cruel and offensive they cut to the core of my being. Others who don't have my support would cower under these attacks."
Randles said that statements such as Donohue's are a common tactic by the Catholic League against those who claim to be abused by priests. She said the Catholic League attempts to bully and harass victims to deter them from moving forward.
Catholic League officials did not respond to a request for comment.
Couzens seeks actual and punitive damages for defamation, invasion of privacy, and negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
"Mr. Donohue has been an outspoken and pugnacious defender of the church," Randles said. "It's our hope that he will align himself with things that are factually true."
Randles said Couzen's abuse lawsuit filed in 2011 against the KC Diocese and O'Brien is set for trial in April. The suit against True has been settled.
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