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Published: Wednesday, 3/1/2006

Illinois man files suit over alleged abuse by ex-priest

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR

A former Toledoan living in Illinois filed a lawsuit yesterday claiming he was sexually abused as a minor by former Toledo Catholic priest Thomas Meiring in the 1960s.

Mr. Meiring, a licensed counselor and clinical supervisor known for his therapy work with transgendered people and youths with gender-identity problems, said yesterday he was "taken aback and astounded" by the allegations and would contact an attorney.

The 52-year-old purported victim filed the lawsuit in Lucas County Common Pleas Court under the name of John Doe. The case was assigned to Judge Charles Doneghy.

Jeff Anderson of St. Paul, Minn., one of John Doe's attorneys, said his client was molested "four or five times" by Mr. Meiring during retreats at St. Mary's Church and rectory in Sandusky.

The abuse occurred "approximately between 1967 and 1969" and started when the purported victim was 15 years old, but the man repressed all memory of the abuse for decades, Mr. Anderson said.

John Doe's memories began to surface in February, 2004, when he read a newspaper article about the John Jay Report, a church-commissioned study of the nationwide clerical sexual abuse scandal. Mr. Anderson, who has filed more than 1,000 lawsuits against Catholic dioceses nationwide, said he has represented "dozens" of clients who did not recall childhood abuse until reaching adulthood because of "traumatic repression or traumatic amnesia."

In John Doe's case, reading the article about the John Jay Report "created a trigger" for him that "started a flood of pretty vivid memories of this guy, Meiring, abusing him," Mr. Anderson said. Ohio's statutes of limitations require civil suits to be filed within two years once the repressed memories surface, he said.

The abuse caused the purported victim to suffer "psychological disorders, including great shame, guilt, self-blame, depression, repression, and disassociation," the suit says.

Mr. Anderson said John Doe has been undergoing counseling, but he did not ask the Toledo diocese to pay for it because "they have not been responsive or responsible" in previous cases.

The lawsuit, which also names the Toledo diocese and St. Mary's Church as defendants, claims that, prior to John Doe's abuse, diocesan leaders "had actual knowledge" of Mr. Meiring's "past pedophile criminal propensities and behavior towards children."

The suit alleges that Catholic leaders both locally and nationally conspired to cover up sexual abuse by priests and engaged in patterns of behavior that fall under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

Sally Oberski, director of communications for the Toledo diocese, said Mr. Meiring was ordained in May, 1968, and served at St. Clement's Parish in Toledo before being transferred to St. Mary's, Sandusky, in June, 1969.

Mr. Meiring asked to leave the priesthood in April, 1983, Ms. Oberski said.

He told The Blade yesterday that he left "for personal and professional reasons" and was not laicized by the Vatican.

After his assignment at St. Mary's, Mr. Meiring served at St. Francis de Sales, Toledo, 1972-73; St. Rose, Lima, 1974-1977, and St. John the Baptist, Landeck, Ohio, 1978-1982, according to the diocese.

In addition to Mr. Anderson, John Doe is represented by Toledo attorney Catherine Hoolahan.

Claudia Vercellotti of the local chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said yesterday John Doe's case is an example of the need to extend the statute of limitations for reporting abuse, as proposed in Ohio Senate Bill 17. That bill, passed unanimously last year by the Senate, is pending in the Ohio House.

"He deserves his day in court," Ms. Vercellotti said.

Yesterday's sexual abuse lawsuit was the first filed against the Toledo diocese since it settled 19 cases out of court in August, 2004, paying a total of $1.19 million to 23 victims.

The Toledo diocese spans 19 counties in northwest Ohio and has 323,000 members in 159 parishes.

Contact David Yonke at:

dyonke@theblade.com

or 419-724-6154.



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