By Carey Gillam

KANSAS CITY (Reuters) - Catholic leaders in Kansas City covered up years of sexual abuse of several young children by a priest who led a Christian organization for youth, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday by four brothers who say they were victimized as children.

The lawsuit, one of more than two dozen pending in Kansas City alleging abuse by area priests, was filed in Jackson County Circuit Court in Kansas City, Missouri. It names Father John Tulipana and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph as defendants, alleging molestation dating to the 1970s and 1980s.

Tulipana resigned in 1994 after a 22-year career with the church when it became public that the Catholic Church paid his accusers and had them sign confidentiality agreements. Tulipana was not prosecuted criminally. He did not respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

The diocese said in 2010 it was pursuing an action of laicization, a church proceeding to permanently remove Tulipana from the priesthood.

The lawsuit alleges Tulipana was allowed to victimize numerous children for years because the diocese failed to remove or sanction Tulipana.

Tulipana is one of a number of priests and clerics accused in lawsuits that resulted in a settlement of $10 million in 2008 for more than 40 victims of sexual abuse.

The diocese issued a statement Wednesday saying before his resignation in 1994 Tulipana was the subject of two separate complaints. Each time he was ordered to undergo psychological evaluations and was subsequently found able to return to the ministry, the diocese said.

This new lawsuit makes similar accusations to earlier claims from others, alleging Tulipana took young boys fishing and on other trips to a lake, and would take a camper where he would force sexual activity on boys.

At the time, Tulipana was helping lead a youth group called Teens Encounter Christ, which aims to connect children with adult mentors to facilitate spiritual growth.

The four brothers who brought the lawsuit claim they were between the ages of 10 and 16 at the time of the abuse. They were from a devout Catholic family that was going through upheaval at the time the abuse started. Tulipana acted as a father figure, taking the boys "under his wing" and spending time with them and their mother and taking the boys on trips where he would sexually molest them, the suit alleges.

The lawsuit, which identifies each of the brothers only as "John Doe," claims the diocese learned of Tulipana's behavior, but "ratified" the abuse by failing to report it to law enforcement authorities, parishioners, victims, and the public.

Bishop Robert Finn, who leads the diocese in Kansas City, and the diocese are under indictment in a separate case for failing to report to authorities evidence that a priest was producing pornographic pictures of young children. They have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial.

"If Finn did some simple outreach, a younger victim might well be found who could prosecute Tulipana and put him behind bars and away from kids," said David Clohessy, spokesman for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). "But Finn will no doubt keep doing little or nothing but mouth pious claims to care about innocent children and wounded adults."

Finn did not respond to requests for comment.

The Catholic Church in the United States has paid out more than $2 billion in settlements to victims alleging sexual abuse and cover-ups by church officials.

(Editing by Daniel Trotta)




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