LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A former Catholic priest dying of cancer was sentenced today to 15 years in prison for sexually abusing a teenage boy at a church, with a judge saying it was time for the former clergyman to “face the consequences.”
James Schook, who sought several delays to his criminal case, glanced at his family members in the courtroom before being taken into custody Friday morning.
Schook, 66, made no statements and did not testify during his April trial in Louisville.
The trial had been repeatedly delayed after Schook was indicted on sex abuse charges in 2011. He had argued that he was too frail from late-stage skin cancer and on too many medications to stand trial.
During the sentencing hearing, Schook’s attorney, David Lambertus, urged the judge to keep Schook out of prison by allowing him to serve out his term on probation. Lambertus also asked if Schook could remain out of prison on bond while his case is appealed.
“It would make a joke of the appeal if Mr. Schook goes to prison, dies there and then an appeals court” finds an error in the criminal trial, Lambertus said.
Jefferson County Circuit Judge Mitch Perry denied both requests, saying it was time for Schook to “face the consequences of his actions.”
Schook’s accuser at trial said he was 13 when he began carrying on a yearslong sexual relationship with Schook at St. Rita Catholic Church in Louisville. He said the two would often meet in Schook’s room in the rectory.
Another alleged victim, Michael Stansbury, who also testified at the trial, said Friday that he was relieved to see Schook being led away to prison. Schook was charged with one count of abusing Stansbury at a different church in the 1970s, but the jury did not convict on that charge.
“It felt very good to see him finally led away into custody instead of always walking out of the courtroom,” said Stansbury, who was the first alleged victim to come forward with allegations against Schook. “So that did give me a sigh of relief, it helps bring down the anxiety a little bit.”
The Associated Press does not typically identify victims of sexual abuse, but Stansbury has spoken publicly on several occasions about the alleged abuse.
Stansbury said he has long since left the Catholic Church, but he said Friday he was encouraged by Pope Francis’ recent announcement that he would meet with abuse victims at the Vatican. Francis declared that the church would have “zero tolerance” for clergy members who hurt children.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” Stansbury said. “I think he’s going to do a much better job than what his (predecessor) did.”
Lambertus declined to comment outside the courtroom, but he expressed reservations to Perry during the hearing that Schook would not get the care he needed in prison.
John Balliet, an assistant county prosecutor, said the state’s prisons deal with lots of sick inmates.
“We think the prison system is up to the task and will take care of him,” Balliet said.