Which father was really to blame in the city’s latest priest-abuse lawsuits?

Holy Ghosts 

Which father was really to blame in the city’s latest priest-abuse lawsuits?

The Strip had talked to Jack Phinney only one time -- about his concerns over Election Day chaos -- before the 50-year-old Kansas City resident called up this meat patty last week to tell us that he'd figured out why his life sucked so hard.

It's not every day that folks call up this chuck steak to discuss why their lives are shit, and since we'd had a pretty interesting discussion about Jack's concerns as a Jackson County election judge, we thought we'd give him a listen.

Jack is a talkative sort, and the story of his early years contained some pretty depressing details:

· His father compensated for losing a job by drinking heavily and taking out his frustrations on his family.

· Dad smacked Jack around enough that the boy wanted to spend as much time outside the house as possible.

· Pop was also quick to disbelieve him, and he belittled Jack for the things he said.

· Jack's priest called him up one day and asked the 14-year-old to come over to the rectory and play -- naked.

· Instead of going, Jack told his parents, and his dad went ballistic.

· After that, even though Jack never had physical contact with the priest, Jack's dad was sure his son was gay and would tell him, "You look like a fag."

· Jack's father was sure his son was too stupid to go to college and told him so.

Jack described how, in his adulthood, he'd never had a relationship with a woman that lasted very long, that he never succeeded very well in his many jobs, and that he'd pretty much stayed away from other people.

And here's the amazing part: Jack says he was never sure where his problems had come from.

But then, going through chemotherapy two years ago, Jack suddenly had a moment of clarity. Of course! The abuse, the humiliation, the low self-esteem -- it was obvious where they had all come from.

And that's why he's suing the Catholic church.

That's right. After a lifetime of abuse from Dear Old Dad, who passed away earlier this year, Jack Phinney last week filed a lawsuit against the local diocese because 35 years ago, an alleged pedo-priest made lewd suggestions to him over the telephone.

Even Jack's attorney, Rebecca Randles, says it's a long shot, calling Jack's case "thin."

Jack himself has no illusions about it. "I have no case," he told this porterhouse.

The lawsuit, filed last week by Randles, adds to the numerous suits she's filed over the past year on behalf of more than a dozen plaintiffs.

The entire business would look awfully fishy to this skeptical slab of protein if it hadn't read Kendrick Blackwood's cover story on Randles in the Pitch last year ("Mother Superior Court," October 16, 2003). As Blackwood's story explained, Randles is gamely trying to bring justice to real victims of abusive priests several decades after that abuse occurred. But a tough Missouri statute of limitations makes such cases difficult to litigate, and besides, Kansas City's diocese isn't like Boston's. As early as 1988, the local diocese took steps to confront abuse by priests, and when Bishop Raymond Boland arrived in 1993, he established a "zero tolerance" policy against such abuse right away.

Unlike scumbag bishops around the country who have been caught moving pedo-priests from parish to parish rather than exiling them from the clergy, Kansas City's Catholic honcho has never been accused of doing the same. Even Randles admitted to Blackwood that she had nothing on Boland himself. But every one of the lawsuits she's filed in the past year names the bishop as a defendant.

Randles readily admits that she's taking a page out of the playbook of Jeffrey Anderson, the Minnesota lawyer who made an industry out of suing the Catholic church. She's followed Anderson's program to a tee by (1) gathering lots of victims who were abused 20, 30, even 40 years ago, even if their abusers are long gone from the diocese; (2) filing their cases in bunches, piling on even with marginal cases such as Phinney's in order to boost attendance at press conferences; and (3) hoping the diocese eventually folds and offers big-money settlements.

Is it calculated? Certainly, but someone like Randles isn't going to lose any sleep over the Strip pointing that out, not if some of the victims raped by priests -- even decades ago -- eventually get some justice in the form of diocese cash.

As for Jack -- well, his eyes are wide open as well. "Some people, I guess, want money. Some people maybe want counseling. I don't want either. What I want to do is damage the Catholic Church's reputation as some kind of holy organization," he says. Boland is as guilty as the rest, even if he does pretend to run a cleaner church, Jack claims.

OK, even if Jack hasn't quite come to grips with his dad's culpability for his crappy life, this meat patty doesn't doubt it when Jack says Father Thomas Reardon's alleged overture to him has haunted him the rest of his life -- especially, he says, after he realized that if someone had taken him seriously back in 1969, other boys might not have been abused later.

Two years after he fended off the allegedly prurient priest, Jack heard about the suicide of a childhood friend named Tim Higgins. Jack's brother told him Higgins had killed himself because of the shame he felt as a victim of Reardon's alleged pedophilia. Higgins had dressed himself in a bra and slip before he hanged himself, Jack was told. The message that sent shocked him terribly, Jack says.

Randles filed a lawsuit last week on behalf of Tim's surviving brother, Kevin Higgins, who claims he was raped by Reardon and confirmed that his brother had been dressed in the bra and slip when he hanged himself in 1971, Randles tells the Strip.

Boland will no doubt fight the new lawsuits just as vigorously as he has the others. And this Friday, the court may reach a decision regarding the statute of limitations and one of the first suits Randles filed a year ago. If she's allowed to take the cases to court, we may finally hear from Reardon himself, who so far has denied the allegations of abuse through his attorney. If what Randles' clients charge is true, Reardon might benefit from a trip to confession. At least Jack Phinney feels better.

Tony Ortega talks about this week's Pitch with KRBZ 96.5's Lazlo after 4 p.m. Wednesday.

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