Court Dismisses Priest Abuse Case

By Bill Dries
Memphis Daily News
March 20, 2009

One of several civil lawsuits alleging child sexual abuse by a Memphis Catholic priest has been dismissed the same week the Tennessee Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal in a similar case from Memphis.

The John Doe lawsuit against the Diocese of Memphis that accused the Rev. Paul St. Charles was dismissed Thursday by Circuit Court Judge Karen Williams after she reviewed the high court's decision in the John Doe lawsuit filed against the Rev. Daniel DuPree.

The Rev. Paul St. Charles

The court didn't give a reason for declining to hear the DuPree appeal. That left intact an appeals court decision that held the victim had waited too long to file his claim against the Catholic Diocese of Memphis. The lawsuit claims church officials in Memphis knew or should have known that DuPree had a history of sexually abusing children.

But the diocese argued and the appeals court agreed that the victim had an obligation to ask church officials if they knew of such behavior when he turned 18 years old. That is when the statute of limitations began running.

Not over yet

Another John Doe alleged in his lawsuit that St. Charles sexually abused him when he was an altar boy in the 1970s at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic church in Frayser. St. Charles was associate pastor at the church at the time. At one time, he was head of Diocesan Youth Services.

Plaintiff's attorney Gary K. Smith wanted the chance to ask Memphis Bishop J. Terry Steib what the church's answer would have been if John Doe had asked about St. Charles's past when he turned 18. Steib wasn't bishop at the time, but he has access to church records that attorneys for the diocese have indicated include allegations of child sexual abuse made that far back.

Steib suspended St. Charles from all priestly duties in 2004 after a diocesan review board recommended the action. The recommendation was prompted by a complaint two to three years earlier from a man who claimed St. Charles sexually abused him when he was a teenager in the 1970s. The man, whose name has not been released by diocesan officials, is not among those who have sued the diocese since.

The diocese moved for dismissal of the case just days after the Supreme Court decision in the DuPree case was published.

"That does not prevent our right to take discovery," Smith said, referring to the Supreme Court decision. "(The diocese) should have to answer these questions before a decision is made."

Attorney Casey Shannon, representing the diocese, told Williams the case law is now "very clear."

"No inquiry was ever made," Shannon replied. "That was what (the victim) was bound to do when he turned 18. If he never inquired, that's the end of it."

Smith told The Daily News he is considering an appeal of the dismissal, but has not made any decision yet.

"We are going to strongly consider doing exactly that," Smith said. "Eventually this issue needs to get to the Supreme Court."

Not particularly deterred

Smith also said he expects the diocese to move for dismissal in at least one other similar lawsuit pending in Circuit Court because of the Tennessee Supreme Court decision.

Smith was also the attorney in the DuPree case, which the court refused to consider.

"Just because they don't take it one time doesn't mean that they're not going to consider the issue down the road. There may have been something factually about that record that wasn't what they were looking for. You never know," Smith said.

In other developments, Circuit Court Judge Charles McPherson has set an April 2 hearing date for a motion by The Daily News to open records in another priest sexual abuse case.

The John Doe lawsuit against Father Juan Carlos Duran was settled last month with the diocese and the Dominican religious order agreeing to pay the victim a combined $2 million. The newspaper is seeking access to sealed documents, including depositions by church officials in which they are believed to discuss not only how they handled the Duran case, but also how they handled other instances of child sexual abuse.


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