ST. LOUIS — The parents of a man who killed himself years after alleged sexual abuse by a St. Louis-area former priest said Thursday they’re hopeful that settlement of their lawsuit against the Archdiocese of St. Louis will raise awareness and help other victims come forward.
Alex Harkins was 21 when he fatally shot himself in 2009. His parents, Dan and Pat Harkins of Florissant, Missouri, said at a news conference that Alex had struggled emotionally since the abuse by Father Bryan Kuchar, who was later removed from the priesthood, when Harkins was about 13.
“We didn’t know at the time,” Dan Harkins said of the abuse. “We found out about a year before he died.”
The parents sued the archdiocese in 2013. A settlement was reached in September. The Harkins declined to disclose details.
The archdiocese said in a statement that church officials, from the outset, “encouraged the Harkins family to contact the police about their claim.” But it noted that due in part to “inconsistent and incomplete information,” Kuchar was never charged criminally in the case.
“In order to avoid the uncertainties of trial and to put this matter to rest for all, a compromise settlement was reached with the family,” the statement read. “We hope it gives them some peace and will continue to hold them in prayer.”
Harkins’ parents, however, said they went to the archdiocese after first learning of the abuse but they were turned away.
Alex Harkins’ suicide drew considerable attention because he and friend Jacob Runge of St. Peters had a suicide pact.
In May 2009, Harkins shot himself at St. Stanislaus Park in Hazelwood. Runge had second thoughts and did not follow through. Days later, Runge led Harkins’ parents to the body.
In June 2009, Runge was charged with assisted suicide, believed to be the first case of its kind in Missouri in 100 years. He was acquitted.
The suit said Alex Hawkins was attending an overnight camp at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in Shrewsbury, Missouri, in 1999 when he first came into contact with Kuchar. The camp was for boys considering careers within the church, including the priesthood. Kuchar at the time worked in the archdiocese vocations office.
Alex went to the same camp once a year through 2002.
“From the time our son was a very young boy he wanted to be a priest,” Pat Harkins said.
Alex first tried to kill himself in 2003, and he tried again several other times, Dan Harkins said. It wasn’t until 2008 that Alex told his parents about the abuse. He didn’t say when or how often it occurred.
In 2003, Kuchar was found guilty of sexually assaulting another boy eight years earlier at a south St. Louis County parish. He was sentenced to three consecutive one-year jail terms.
Kuchar was removed from the priesthood in 2006 and now lives in Lake St. Louis, Missouri. He does not have a listed phone number.
Pat Harkins said the family’s faith in the church has been decimated.
“I still believe in God,” she said. “I don’t believe in the Catholic Church. How could I?”