Sex Assault Lawsuit Belongs in Kansas, Judge Rules Case Involves Priest's Molestation of a Texan in That State

By Toni Heinzl
Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Texas)
August 3, 2001

FORT WORTH - Federal courts in Texas do not have jurisdiction over a Tarrant County man's lawsuit against a Roman Catholic boarding school in Kansas where a priest sexually molested him, U.S. District Judge John McBryde ruled this week.

McBryde recommended that the lawsuit be refiled in Kansas.

The suit is based on recovered memories that the man says surfaced more than five years after the priest introduced him, when he was 14, to pornographic videos and alcohol and molested him at Thomas More Prep-Marian High of Hays, Kan., according to court records.

Kansas authorities built a criminal case against the priest last year by secretly recording his admissions at a dinner meeting with the young man, who was wearing a body tape recorder, court records show.

The lawsuit was filed in March on behalf of the victim and his parents in state District Court in Fort Worth and later removed to federal court.

The Rev. Ronald Gilardi, 54, was sentenced July 19 in Ellis County, Kan., to serve 32 months at a locked treatment facility for clergy. He had pleaded guilty to three counts of aggravated indecent liberties with a child, Ellis County prosecutor Tom Drees said.

The majority of the priests sent to the treatment center in Dittmer, Mo., near St. Louis, spend the rest of their lives there because they are barred from teaching or presiding over services, Drees said.

According to the suit, the young man, now in his early 20s, spontaneously recovered the memory of the sexual molestation in December 1999, five years after he left the school.

The suit, seeking unspecified damages, says that school officials engaged in deceptive trade practices in violation of Texas law when they tried to persuade the boy's parents to enroll their son.

The parents were lured by the promise that the school would provide an "ideal Christian environment," a nurturing family atmosphere and "teachers who were willing to go the extra mile," the suit says.

The school's attorney, Lynn Fielder of Dallas, said earlier he believed that the suit should have been filed in Kansas.

In a ruling Monday, McBryde said that the core of the lawsuit arises from the assaults in Kansas, not from the school's limited advertising to attract enrollment in Texas.

Parents can gather information about Thomas Moore Prep from its Web site, but the school has never advertised in Texas except for two ads placed in the newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Dallas last year. Only three students from Texas have ever attended Thomas Moore Prep, including the victim, who transferred there after his previous boarding school in Arkansas closed, McBryde said in his order.

The plaintiffs' attorney, Stephen Howell of Fort Worth, did not return messages seeking comment.


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