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Defamation Lawsuit Against Diocese Reappears

Kahwajy, a former assistant superintendent of schools for the diocese, was appointed to lead the parish school in July 2001 after the death of Mary Claire Robinson, who had been principal for 19 years. Kahwajy’s tenure as principal drew criticism from some parents at St. Benedict over such matters as school finances and an alleged lack of religious instruction. (The diocese never publicly stated why she was terminated.)

The suit claims that that Apuzzo had called Kahwajy insulting names, such as “idiot,” and said that she “participated in improper and oppressive discipline” of students, among other things. The suit also names A. Diane Bialkowski, superintendent of the office of Catholic schools, and parish residents Barbara Rose and D’Anne Remocaldo, as participants in defamation. Kahwajy says in the suit that all the criticism is false.

The suit also alleges that it was Bishop Walter F. Sullivan and four other priests in the diocese — not Kahwajy — who were responsible for failing to report sexual abuse in the 1980s by John Hesch, a priest at Sacred Heart/St. Augustine School. (Hesch commited suicide in 1994.)

Kahwajy says in the suit that, while she was principal of that school, she discovered that Hesch “had, on more than one occasion, engaged in questionable physical contact with a seventh-grade student and an eight [sic] grade student” there.

Kahwajy immediately reported the matter to the bishop and the four priests, the suit says. The suit also states that in 1986, after Kahwajy had left the school, she learned along with the bishop and others, that in 1985 Hesch had “invited fourth-grade students to touch Father Hesch’s erect penis.” Instead of disciplining the priest, Kahwajy alleges, the bishop transferred him instead.

Attorneys for the diocese had filed a motion in November to dismiss the suit, saying the religion clauses of the First Amendment and Virginia’s constitution meant the court had no jurisdiction over the case. The court has not yet set a date for the trial.

— Melissa Scott Sinclair

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