Ex-Ryan Principal Accused of Molesting Students
By Laura Frank
October 6, 2002
A former principal at Father Ryan High School has become the latest and most prominent ex-priest from the Nashville Catholic Diocese to be accused of sexually abusing children.
John Kline told The Tennessean that when he was a 16-year-old junior at the school in 1981, he was repeatedly molested by the principal, Ron Dickman.
Dickman, who ran the prestigious Nashville Cath-olic school for 10 years, categorically denied the accusation through his attorney.
"The allegations of Mr. Kline are false and ... without corroboration," attorney George Barrett said in a letter to The Tennessean. Dickman has not been charged with any crime.
Kline said that when he was a new student in 1981, Dickman befriended him, then performed oral sex on him on approximately five occasions at Dickman's apartment. The abuse ended in November of that year, Kline said, after he got in a fight at school and Dickman cut off contact with him.
Kline, now 37, said fear and embarrassment kept him silent before. He came forward now, he said, because the current national clergy sex abuse scandal made him realize that molesters often continue abusing for years. Kline said he worries other children might be at risk around Dickman, 58. The former priest now runs a social services organization in Florida that, among other things, serves homeless children.
"If he is still around children, people need to know about what happened to me," said Kline, who is now chief of a land surveying crew and, with his wife, is expecting a baby. (See story on Page 17A.) Kline said he has no intention of suing Dickman or the church. "This is about protecting children."
No such allegations have been made against Dickman where he now works, according to the president of the organization's board, who also said Dickman has done a good job.
Back in Nashville, though, other allegations against Dickman have been raised.
Dickman was forced to leave the priesthood in 1991 because of sexual contact with the son of a prominent Nashville Catholic family, the man's brother told The Tennessean.
The sexual contact began when the man was a student at Father Ryan, where he graduated in 1978. The man died in 1991. His younger brother spoke on the condition that his family's name not be published. However, the family did agree to let The Tennessean use their names when asking for a response from Dickman and Nashville Diocese leaders.
In addition, the brother spoke on the phone last week with Bishop Edward Kmiec to tell him the same details he related to The Tennessean. The bishop did not dispute his account, he said.
The brother said that in 1991 he reported the sexual contact to the Rev. Charles Giacosa, who was then his parish priest. (See story at bottom of page)
"Father Giacosa told me it wasn't the first complaint like that about him," the man's brother said, referring to Dickman.
Giacosa said Dickman had been forced to resign as Father Ryan principal in 1987 because of allegations about improper sexual conduct, the brother said.
The brother said he decided to talk publicly now, years later, because he believes the truth should be told.
Dickman, through his attorneys, denied having sexual contact with the man while he was a high school student. In addition, one of the attorneys, Edmund L. "Ted" Carey Jr. said the following about the brother's allegations:
"To the best of Mr. Dickman's knowledge no such allegation was ever brought to his attention by anyone on behalf of the Diocese of Nashville in 1991, including during the time surrounding his decision to leave the diocese as a priest."
The Tennessean requested a response to the allegations from Bishop Kmiec, who came to Nashville in 1992. The bishop declined to comment. The Tennessean also asked to speak to Giacosa, but diocese leaders declined to make any church officials available for an interview.
In a letter to The Tennessean, diocese spokesman Rick Musacchio said no one from the diocese would comment on "details of a story supposedly given to you by a member of a prominent local Catholic family." He added: "We see nothing to be gained and feel that we would be insensitive to discuss any details or contribute to a newspaper story about a very painful chapter in this family's life."
When informed of this response, the brother said: "I've asked them all from the bishop on down to tell the truth. I've asked them to lay it out and get on with it. Evidently, they don't want to do that."
There have been other questions regarding Dickman, according to District Attorney General Torry Johnson.
Johnson said prosecutors had reason to suspect that Dickman was involved in inappropriate sexual contact in either 1983 or 1984 based on information received from the Nashville Catholic Diocese. The information was received in 1999 and prosecutors launched an inquiry but soon found they could not pursue it, Johnson said.
"Prosecution based on any of those allegations would have been barred by the statute of limitations," Johnson said. "And therefore, there was no further action to be taken." The statute of limitations restricts the length of time that charges can be brought after a crime takes place.
The specific allegations have never been made public. The district attorney general's office cannot release the diocese documents because they were received under a subpoena from a grand jury whose records are secret by law, Johnson said.
Dickman's attorney, Barrett, said he has reviewed the documents sent to the grand jury and said, "Mr. Dickman did not engage in any unlawful conduct while a priest for the Diocese of Nashville." However, Barrett declined to release the documents.
Musacchio, the diocese spokesman, responded to The Tennessean's request for the documents by saying it was diocese policy not to release employee files.
"Furthermore, we are convinced that given your own long history of biased and unprofessional reporting of issues related to the Diocese of Nashville, no good purpose toward the goal of protecting children could be served by granting you access to any files," Musacchio said in a letter to the newspaper. The Tennessean has published a number of articles over the past three years about two former Nashville priests who sexually abused children.
As for the case described by prosecutor Johnson, Musacchio pointed to a 1999 letter that diocese attorney Gino Marchetti sent to prosecutors, which read: "In addition to reviewing the records once more, I asked anyone who I thought would have any knowledge of Ron Dickman, and none of them were aware of any report or allegation against Ron Dickman regarding any inappropriate behavior with a minor."
Barrett said in response to all of the allegations that Dickman never had sexual contact with any minor. Barrett suggested that Kline might have been abused by a priest before he moved to Nashville and is confusing the incident.
Kline said that he had not been sexually abused before meeting Dickman and that he was not confused about his allegations against Dickman.
"You don't forget something like that," Kline said.
After learning recently of Kline's allegations, Nashville Diocese officials offered him counseling, as has been offered to other victims of sex abuse by priests. When Kline was told of the diocese offer, he said: "If they really want to help me, they should just go ahead and open the records, and be honest about what happened. Men of God should want to protect kids."
While Kline has not told his story publicly before, he did give the same account to therapists as far back as 1994.
Records from Kline's initial call to therapists on Nov. 7, 1994, show that Kline sought counseling because of sexual abuse by a priest. The records, provided by the therapists with Kline's permission, show that 10 days later, Kline met with a therapist and named Dickman as his abuser. Dennis Kaufman, one of the therapists who met with Kline, said the timing suggests that Kline is telling the truth.
"No one thought back then that there might be money to be had or any of the things that might be suspected if someone just came forward in this current scandal," Kaufman said.
In addition, The Tennessean commissioned the former head of the FBI's national polygraph unit to conduct a polygraph, or "lie detector" test, on Kline.
"There is no question in my mind John is telling the truth," said Kendall W. Shull, who was chief of the polygraph unit at FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., until he started his own consulting firm last year.
The Tennessean offered Dickman, who declined to be interviewed for this report, the opportunity to undergo a polygraph with Shull, as well. He declined, but his attorneys later commissioned their own, which they say he passed.
Dickman's attorneys released three of the questions he was asked during his polygraph. None asks directly whether Dickman had sexual contact with Kline. The Tennessean attempted to interview the examiner who gave Dickman the polygraph, but Dickman's attorneys declined to give consent and declined to release any more information about the polygraph.
A nationally recognized expert on polygraphs who was contacted by The Tennessean said he had "serious reservations" about the way questions were posed to Dickman. (See story on Page 17A.)
The Tennessean also contacted Patti van Eys, an assistant professor of psychology at Vanderbilt University who has lectured nationwide on the treatment of child sex abuse.
Kline's account and Dickman's denial were described to her, and she offered these observations:
Kline's version of events "fits the pattern" of adult survivors of sex abuse, she said. "I can't find any holes in his story. People don't just go seeking mental health assistance to talk about being abused if they weren't - especially males."
Van Eys said it was unlikely that Kline would mistake being repeatedly abused by Dickman if he had been abused by someone else, as Dickman and his attorney have suggested.
"Basic memory research shows that after age 12, the memory process is every bit as developed as an adult," van Eys said.
Kline said he has clear recollection of the abuse. Sometimes certain sights and sounds will trigger a "snapshot" image of Dickman abusing him in the former priest's apartment while Neil Diamond songs played on the stereo, Kline said. Van Eys said Kline's description of such images also is consistent with the way victims often describe abuse.
"The brain can encode a memory almost like a photograph," she said. "Because of terror or confusion, things like sounds, visual images or smells are imprinted. Unless they (victims) are really psychotic and manipulative and have studied the research, they wouldn't be able to talk like that."
Dickman announced his resignation from Father Ryan in April 1987.
He said then that he wanted to become a counselor and let someone else have a chance to run the school at a point when construction of a new campus was about to begin.
Dickman later became a marriage counselor at Catholic Social Services in Nashville while he attended Vanderbilt University. He left the priesthood in 1991 and then worked as an American General insurance agent before becoming executive director of Nashville's Crisis Intervention Center, according to his attorneys.
In late 1995, Dickman moved to Florida, where he is executive director of Religious Community Services, a social services organization in Clearwater that is supported by 82 congregations, plus local and state government.
Its mission includes offering food, shelter and other services to homeless families, the poor and victims of domestic violence.
A 1996 St. Petersburg Times article said Dickman "likes to stress that nearly half of those benefiting from RCS programs are children." In another Times article that year, Dickman said he moved to Tampa without a job because "I do like challenges," but he declined then to say why he had left the priesthood in Nashville.
When The Tennessean initially contacted Dickman through his attorneys about Kline's allegations, Dickman insisted that he has no contact with youth in the regular course of his job.
"Mr. Dickman's position with the social services organization is one at which he has no contact with the clients that the organization serves," Barrett said in a letter to The Tennessean.
"The majority of its clientele are adults except some families with children. His responsibility is to direct the staff in the executive offices where he works and not at the various facilities which are remote from his office."
Kline said he isn't reassured by Barrett's statement that Dickman is not working with children.
"I couldn't take the chance that he might still be doing this to someone else," Kline said.
Bill Trautwein, president of the agency's board of directors, said Dickman's job does not require regular contact with children. He also said the organization had received no complaints against Dickman and that it had thrived under his leadership.
Trautwein said he talked to Dickman after learning of Kline's allegations and is satisfied with Dickman's explanation.
"I've been very upfront with him and felt he was with me in the explanation he gave me," Trautwein said. "He's not sure where the story came from. Again, this was 20 years ago and it is hard to pin down. He feels the boy at some point was abused, he just knows it wasn't (by) him."
Trautwein added: "Ron is an excellent employee and a wonderful person."
Two former Nashville priests from the 1980s have admitted molesting children. Edward Mc- Keown is serving 25 years in prison without parole on child rape charges. Franklin T. Richards told police he abused about 25 boys, but the statute of limitations had run out on those crimes and he was never charged.
No current priests in the Nashville Diocese have been credibly accused, diocese officials have said.
Kline said he believes that the information Nashville prosecutors learned about Dickman in 1999 must refer to someone other than him. It concerns accusations from 1983 or 1984 and Kline said he had told no one then what happened to him.
"I don't think I was the only one this happened to," Kline said.
"Looking back, I don't think I was an experiment for him. If there are others out there, I want them to know that coming forward and getting counseling helps."
Kline said he does not want anything from the church, nor does he want to be involved in any lawsuits against Dickman or the church.
(The Nashville Diocese was sued by two boys who said the church was partly to blame for Mc-Keown's molesting them. The case was dismissed and is being appealed.)
Kline said he didn't report his abuse to his parents, police, the church or anyone else at the time.
"In 1981, who would have believed a priest would do this?" he said. "I was too ashamed and too afraid. At the time, I just ... tried to make it fade."
But Kline and his wife say they did call police in Nashville earlier this year when Kline decided he needed to tell officials what had happened. The Klines also called the state Department of Children's Services.
They said officials at both agencies told them the time lapse made it unlikely that anything would be investigated because the statute of limitations meant the chance to prosecute any criminal case has expired.
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