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Published: Saturday, 6/21/2008

A tepid acquittal

SEXUAL-abuse cases are usually highly emotionally charged. When a verdict is announced, it is very rare to have it accepted as fair by all sides. So it is no wonder that past victims of sexual abuse and their families find themselves distressed that a Roman Catholic priest was acquitted on a misdemeanor charge of sexual imposition. However, Lucas County Common Pleas Court Judge James Jensen found that the prosecution failed to prove that the actions of the Rev. Frank Murd offended the victim. The judge then found the priest not guilty in a bench trial.

The accusation stemmed from a March incident involving a 27-year-old man at the JCC-YMCA in Sylvania Township. During a police interview, Father Murd, former pastor of St. Joseph s Church in Maumee, initially denied that he inappropriately touched the man, but then admitted that he did and apologized. When the victim explained during the trial why he didn t immediately rebuff the priest, he said he was shocked by his actions and froze before objecting. The man asked a facility attendant for the identity of the priest. He went home and called his psychologist, who instructed him to notify police.

It s understandable that Judge Jensen was puzzled and bothered that nearly a full minute passed during the encounter and the man had not resisted, told the priest to stop, moved away from him, or left the hot tub. True, sometimes victims of inappropriate physical contact are so stunned by another s aggression that they don t take action until later. Could that have been what was going on here? After all, no matter what any of us says, none of us honestly knows how we would respond to a situation until confronted.

And though the judge was bound by the testimony he heard during the trial, he was not insensitive to the victim and said the verdict should not be misinterpreted. Neither is the outcome of the trial an attempt on the judge s part to score points with the Catholic community. In fact, Judge Jensen said the verdict should not be considered an affirmation or verification of the priest s behavior or interpreted to impugn the character of the man who claimed to have been victimized.

Whether Father Murd is again assigned as pastor or is named priest to a parish is now up to the Toledo Catholic Diocese. Father Murd who returned to a residential facility where he went for treatment after he resigned from St. Joseph s was acquitted of a crime because the judge found reasonable doubt that one occurred. But the diocese needs to exercise care in deciding his future role with the church, particularly in light of the sexual-abuse cases that have rocked the Catholic Church in recent years.



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