Lawsuit claims man killed himself over abuse by priest

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

ST. LOUIS -- The father of an ex-Marine found dead in a hotel room sued the St. Louis archdiocese and a Roman Catholic priest Tuesday, alleging his son killed himself after years of torment over being sexually abused in youth by the clergyman.

Though Christopher Klump's death certificate ruled the March 2 death an "accident," the wrongful-death lawsuit claims that Klump, 30, fatally overdosed on cocaine to escape emotional scars from the Rev. Michael McGrath's molestations years earlier.

The death certificate listed the cause of death as "cocaine-induced agitated delirium." But according to the lawsuit, the death was "a direct result of the psychological, spiritual and emotional toll the childhood sexual abuse by defendant McGrath took on him."

Patrick Noaker, an attorney who filed the lawsuit in St. Louis Circuit Court, said the medical examiner's declaring the death an accident was done without knowledge of Klump's at least two previous suicide attempts. Noaker said Klump, who was divorced, also had told family and friends that he would kill himself.

In the 18 months before his death, Christopher Klump "said he could not come to terms with what had happened to him as a child," Jason Klump told reporters after the lawsuit was filed on his dead brother's behalf by their father, Allen Klump.

Before committing suicide, Klump took his hotel room Bible and chucked it through the window, Noaker said.

"We hope today will become public awareness that no one else has to die," said Mark Klump, Christopher's oldest brother in a St. Louis County family of 13 children.

Calls to McGrath's home Tuesday went unanswered; a telephone operator said McGrath's telephone apparently was taken off the hook.

Monsignor Richard Stika, speaking on behalf of the archdiocese, said McGrath, 57, essentially was suspended from the priesthood in 1997 after "allegations involving improper contact with minors." That action, which bars McGrath from practicing as a priest, came years before the Klumps approached the archdiocese last year about Christopher Klump's alleged abuse, Stika said.

Stika said he had not read the lawsuit and could not immediately discuss it.

"This family has been horribly touched by this situation," said Stika, who attended Christopher Klump's funeral home visitation.

Tuesday's lawsuit -- seeking at least $25,000 in damages -- alleges that from 1984 to 1988, Klump belonged to St. Bernadette's parish in St. Louis County, where, at least for part of that time, McGrath was assigned to nearby St. Simon's parish.

McGrath met the Klumps when he performed the wedding ceremony for one of Christopher's sisters, the lawsuit alleges. It said McGrath later became the family's pastor, often taking Christopher -- then a pre-teenager -- on outings involving sexual abuse falsely represented as spiritual counseling.

While lawyers and activists representing Allen Klump said the lawsuit was believed to be the first of its kind in Missouri, such wrongful-death lawsuits have been filed elsewhere nationally against the Catholic Church on behalf of alleged molestation victims.

In April in California, the parents of Richard Lukasiewicz Jr., 36, sued the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, alleging their son hanged himself in April 2002 because he was emotionally scarred from childhood sexual abuse by a Roman Catholic brother.

That lawsuit, which did not name the Catholic friar accused of the molesting, was billed by lawyers and activists representing victims as among the first times in the United States that relatives of alleged molestation victims have sued the Catholic Church for damages.

After serving six years in the Marines, Christopher Klump had been a college student in Arizona and the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

McGrath, ordained in 1975, worked in various suburban St. Louis churches, including St. Ferdinand's in Florissant from 1976-78; St. Patrick's in Wentzville, 1979-81; All Souls in Overland, 1982-83; St. Simon's in Concord Village, 1984-88, St. Catherine of Sienna in Pagedale, 1990; and St. Mary's in Bridgeton, 1991-96.

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