KC Man Sues Church, Priest in Paternity Fraud Case

Here’s a different twist on paternity fraud (Kansas City Star, 9/26/11).  The particular case is interesting mostly for the article that reports on it.

It seems that back in 2004, a woman was fired from her job at the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph (Missouri).  She was upset, so her husband suggested she contact someone at the church for counselling, and that’s what she did.  She was counselled by Rev. Joseph Matt who among other things was on the church’s Marriage Tribunal, which seems to mean he tried to assist members of the congregation with marital problems as well as dealing with theological issues related to marriage.

Into the bargain, Matt had known the couple as churchgoers for many years and they considered him a friend.  Well, he seems to have been friendly enough with her.  So in addition to “counselling,” Matt and the woman pursued a two-year clandestine affair that produced a pregnancy and a son.

Neither Matt nor the woman thought to inform her husband of (a) the affair or (b) the possibility that the boy might not be the husbands.  So he dutifully raised the child as his own.  Five years later, the man’s wife finally came clean to him, acknowledging the affair.

Late last summer, the man said, his wife told him she”d had an affair with Matt. The man said he didn”t even consider the possibility of Matt being his child”s father.

But the next week, he said, “I asked her if there was a chance (the boy) wasn”t mine, and she goes, ‘It”s possible.” But she”d never tried to find out.’

He then confronted Matt who acknowledged the affair and that it had gone on a long time.  Matt was later transferred to another church.  He paid for genetic testing that proved the child was his.

A week later, he said, “They called me at my work, the DNA people, and told me that (the boy) wasn”t mine.’

“I lost it,’ the man said, his voice breaking…

“It”s been a nightmare,’ the man said in an interview with The Kansas City Star. “It”s not a good thing to find out that your son is not yours and the father is actually a priest that you thought you could trust. I still can”t believe it.’

Not surprisingly, the man divorced his wife but intends to continue raising the boy as his own.

“I never thought I”d have to experience something like this,’ he said.

As for the child, he added, “Someday, he”ll have to know. I”ve just got to figure out the right time to tell him.’

The man has sued both Matt and the Catholic Diocese, but apparently not his ex-wife, for fraud among other things.   (He’s done so anonymously in order to protect his son, hence the absence of names in the article.)  I assume the legal theory is that Matt had a duty to disclose his relationship with the woman to the man as well as the possibility that the child might be his.

In the meantime, the church has managed to make a bad situation worse.

The man, who has filed for divorce, said he and his attorney met with [Bishop Robert] Finn and a diocesan attorney earlier this year.

“My lawyer asked Bishop Finn what they were going to do about Joe Matt,’ he said. “And his answer was, well, Joe Matt”s done all these great things, he”s been a good guy, he takes care of his brother. All he did was compliment how good of a guy Matt was.’

During the meeting, the man said, “Never once did Finn apologize for what Matt did.’

Not only that, but the church has also left Matt on its Marriage Tribunal.

The tribunal gathers information and then decides whether the couple is still bound to the former marriage or may be free to enter into another one.

Rebecca Randles, the plaintiff”s lawyer, said Matt”s position on the tribunal was “completely outrageous.’

The man said he was shocked that the diocese placed Matt back at St. Joseph the Worker parish earlier this year and left him on the Marriage Tribunal.

“If I wanted to get an annulment, I”d have to go in front of him,’ he said.

The Catholic Church generally has been in bad odor for years due mostly to  priests seducing minors and the Church’s covering up those scandals.  It’s established a pretty unsavory reputation in cases of priests and their illicit sexual behavior, so predictably, that’s the slant of the Star piece.  It’s mostly about the callousness of the Church generally and Matt in particular.

Lost in the shuffle is the behavior of the man’s wife.  She lied to him about the affair, lied to him about the child’s parentage, lied to the state about the same and allowed the man to develop a bond with the child without telling him he might not be the dad. 

My guess is that was calculated.  After all, if she’d told him straight away, he might have divorced her then and obviously a Catholic priest is not going to marry her.  So she’d be on her own but receiving child support from the meager earnings of a priest.  Not a good prospect.

And it seems to have worked.  The man indeed bonded with the boy he thought was his son and he’s not about to give him up now.  Is he paying child support?  Is Matt?  Is she?  The article doesn’t tell us.  It only says the former couple have a shared parenting arrangement for all three of their children.

Thanks to Ron for the heads-up.

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