LITTLE ROCK A North Little Rock woman filed a negligence lawsuit Wednesday in Pulaski County Circuit Court against the Catholic Diocese of Little Rock and its bishop, claiming they failed to protect her from a “predatory” priest who seduced her into a sexual relationship under the pretense of counseling her.
In January, Catholic authorities removed the Rev. Charles Kanu from his post in the unincorporated Pulaski County community of Marche. Bishop Anthony B. Taylor told worshippers that “credible allegations of professional misconduct” had been raised against the Nigerian native, who had served in Arkansas churches in Helena-West Helena, Marianna, Mountain Home, Tontitown and Huntsville since 2005.
After receiving a complaint, the church immediately began an investigation of what Taylor described as “noncriminal” behavior, with Kanu admitting he had breached “conditions” placed on his continuing ministry in Arkansas. That led the bishop to suspend him and remove him from the parish. In a news release Wednesday, Dennis Lee, a spokesman for the diocese, said the church won’t comment on the woman’s allegations, beyond what Taylor revealed in January, in light of her legal action.
The church’s response to her accusations has not been enough, the woman told reporters Wednesday at a news conference organized by the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, an activist group also known as SNAP. She said Taylor ignored Kanu’s misbehavior not only with her but also with other women while simultaneously ignoring sexual misconduct of other priests in the statewide diocese.
The lawsuit describes a relationship that began in May 2008, turned sexual in spring 2009 and ended in October, sparking depression in her and her children and contributing to a suicide attempt by her 13-year-old son. She said she hoped news of her lawsuit would encourage other women to come forward.
The woman, who is in her early 40s, filed suit anonymously, claiming public disclosure would subject her to public humiliation and threats. A decision on whether she can proceed without publicly disclosing her name will be up to the presiding judge, Wendell Griffen, who is also a Baptist minister. She is seeking compensatory damages.
Jessica Arbour of Florida, one of the woman’s attorneys, said Kanu’s relationship with the woman was also criminal, constituting third-degree sexual assault as described in Arkansas Code 5-14-126. That law says a clergy member who uses his position of authority and trust over his victim to have a sexual relationship commits a Class C felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison if convicted. Arbour said the woman has filed a criminal complaint in Mountain Home, where she first met Kanu as a convert to Catholicism. Ron Kincade, prosecuting attorney for Baxter County, said Wednesday that no charges have been filed against Kanu, but he would not say whether Kanu was under investigation.
“They [church officials] didn’t protect her and they didn’t protect other vulnerable women,” Arbour said. “Instead, they gave him [Kanu] a collar which he used as a weapon.”
Arkansas, Pages 10 on 04/14/2011
Print Headline: NLR woman sues diocese, says ‘predatory’ priest seduced her