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News - January 1996

Ex-altar boy suing South Dakota priest in civil court

William Lambert, a 72-year-old Roman Catholic priest, recently took the witness stand against allegations by a former altar boy who claims Lambert's repeated molestations of him destroyed his life.

Lambert admitted to repeated oral sex and masturbation with Robert Koenig, who filed the civil suit. Lambert became the new parish priest at a Fairfax church in 1958, where Koenig was an altar boy. Koenig claims the sexual encounter continued until he was 29.

"Prior to the rape...there was the unclothing," Lambert testified about the beginning of his sexual encounter with Koenig, according to a story in the Rapid City Journal. "I conned him into taking his clothes off. ...'Try these pants....Try this shirt.' I conned him.

"A sick mind can think of a lot of things."

Koenig's attorney, Rick Johnson of Gregory, previously introduced letters between Lambert and the diocese he would later serve. The letters were written as Lambert was training for the priesthood in the early 1950s. diocese, where he was to serve. Lambert requested the diocese keep secret the reason he had postponed the first steps toward official priesthood (he had become attracted to another seminarian), according to the Rapid City Journal.

Lambert testified he became infatuated with Koenig, the middle son of a staunch Catholic family. He lusted after the boy, Lambert said.

Lambert said he drove to the Koenig family farm house and picked up Robert. Then he drove about a half mile to an abandoned farm house and simply told Koenig to put his hands behind his back. Lambert handcuffed the boy before realizing he had left the keys back at the church rectory.

At the rectory, Lambert said, he helped the handcuffed Koenig across the yard to the house without a struggle. "He didn't know what I was going to do," he said.

Inside the house, Lambert said he tied Koenig with a rope before removing the handcuffs, then performed masturbation and oral sex on the boy. Lambert said he soon after told another priest of the incident during the church sacrament of confession. "I probably confessed I forced a young man and masturbated him," Lambert said. "I was absolved."

Lambert threw the handcuffs away, and a year later offered Koenig $300 for sex. "He was very attractive....I wanted his body," Lambert testified.

In opening statements, Lambert's attorney, Joseph Butler of Rapid City, argues the three-year statute of limitations was long past when Koenig filed the lawsuit against Lambert and the Rapid City Diocese in 1992. Also, Butler argued, the sexual encounters were consensual. Jeffrey Viken of Rapid City, the lawyer for the diocese, said church officials didn't know this abuse was taking place.

(Information found in this article initially appeared in a Rapid City Journal article on Dec. 6.)


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