Priest Loses Abuse Lawsuit

By Jon Murray

A Marion Superior Court jury on Thursday awarded a Greene County man $155,000 in damages in his sexual abuse lawsuit against a priest.

The man, now 21, said during this week’s trial that he was touched or fondled by the Rev. Jonathan L. Stewart twice, the first time when he was 6.

At the time, Stewart — the boy’s relative — was serving at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Milan, but the alleged abuse occurred at the boy’s home.

Stewart has denied the abuse claims. The Greene County prosecutor did not file charges, and the family filed the lawsuit in 2004.

“This was never about money,” said Pat Noaker, who represented the plaintiff along with state Rep. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, an attorney. The jury’s finding “was more about accountability. There are no winners.”

The Indianapolis Star generally does not identify the victims of sexual abuse.

Three hours of deliberation by the six-member jury ended the three-day trial in Judge David Dreyer’s courtroom. The jury awarded $5,000 in compensatory damages and $150,000 in punitive damages.

The plaintiff also sued the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, but that case was dismissed before trial through an agreement because Stewart was not serving in his official role at the boy’s home. The archdiocese paid no settlement beyond compensation for counseling bills, following its policy for any abuse claim.

Stewart has worked in restricted ministry since the allegations came to light in 2001.