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  Suit Filed against Diocese

By Jimmie E. Gates
Clarion-Leader (Jackson, MS)
June 13, 2002

The Catholic Diocese of Jackson conspired to conceal that a then-Jackson priest sexually abused three brothers almost 30 years ago, a lawsuit filed Wednesday alleges.

The lawsuit filed in Hinds County Circuit Court seeks $48 million in actual and punitive damages on behalf of Kenneth Morrison of Chicago, Thomas Morrison of Jackson and Francis Morrison Jr. of Texas. The brothers' mother, Dorothy Morrison of Madison, also is a lawsuit plaintiff.

Catholic bishops begin meeting today in Dallas to discuss a policy to address the barrage of sexual abuse claims aimed at the church.

"It's a wake-up call to the Catholic church," Sharon Garner, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys, said of the Morrison family's lawsuit.

Named as defendants are the diocese; current Bishop William Houck; George Broussard, the former priest who allegedly committed the sexual abuse while active in the priesthood; Boston Cardinal Bernard Law, who was vicar general in Jackson at the time of the alleged abuse; and others.

The Catholic church is engulfed in controversy after allegations that church leaders often didn't remove priests accused of sexual abuse, instead transferring the priests to other parishes. Law has been heavily criticized for inaction in Boston on allegations of priests' misconduct.

The Morrisons moved to Jackson in 1969 from Boston and began attending St. Peter's Catholic Cathedral in Jackson, the lawsuit says. The alleged abuse occurred between 1969 and 1974. "Father Broussard soon became a fixture around the Morrison household," the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit says Broussard dined at the Morrisons' home and often tucked in the boys, then ages 5, 7 and 10, at bedtime. He often took the children to the family's lake house by himself, the lawsuit says. It was with the trust gained with Dr. Francis Morrison, the boys' father, and their mother that Broussard was able to sexually abuse the boys, the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit, which is only one side of the legal argument, says Broussard abused the children in their home, the family's lake house, the church and church rectory.

After two of the boys told their father about the abuse in 1973, Francis Morrison reported it to church officials, the lawsuit says. The church allowed Broussard to remain at St. Peter's for 12-18 more months, according to the lawsuit.

Broussard was eventually moved to a parish in Waveland in Hancock County. He left the priesthood about a year later, the lawsuit says. Broussard now lives in Houma, La. Phone calls to Broussard's home went unanswered Wednesday.

"The sexual abuse arose from the exercise of authority, power and access created by Defendant Broussard's job as a Catholic priest," the lawsuit states. "Defendant Diocese of Jackson knew or should have known of the dangerous sexual propensities of Defendant Broussard, yet they did nothing to remove him from a position with access to minor children or to control his access to minor children he sexually abused ..."

Jackson diocesan offices were closed for the day when efforts were made Wednesday to seek a response. However, according to the Web site for the diocesan newspaper Mississippi Catholic, the diocese is conducting an investigation and has been informed by Broussard that, during the time period in question, he received psychiatric help at the direction of then-Bishop Joseph Brunini.

Last week, diocesan spokesman the Rev. Michael Flannery, vicar general, said Law may have used poor judgment, but his heart was in the right place.

Jackson attorney Marcie Fyke of the law firm Maxey, Wann, Fyke & Hawkins, one of the firms representing the Morrisons, said they expect other lawsuits will be filed against the diocese. "Our phones have not stopped ringing," Fyke said Wednesday. She said she represents a Hattiesburg man who will file suit soon alleging he was molested as a teenager by a parish priest in Shelby.

Jackson attorney Anthony R. Simon of Richmond Simon & Abston, also representing the Morrisons, said the lawsuit's primary goal is to make the church ensure the safety of children.

The diocese's "Policy Against Sexual Misconduct With a Minor By Clergy Or Religious," in effect since Jan. 1, 1994, covers investigations of abuse of minors, even if the report is made years after the alleged conduct.

The diocese "is committed to ensuring that children being served by the church are not at risk of sexual abuse by church personnel," according to a statement from the diocese.

 
 

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