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  Women Request Priest's Records

By Darren Barbee
Star-Telegram
January 25, 2006

http://www.dfw.com/mld/dfw/news/local/13707496.htm

FORT WORTH -- Three women asked a Fort Worth judge Tuesday to unseal the records of a former Arlington priest they accused of sexual misconduct in the 1970s and 1990s.

The women, who are not identified in the lawsuit, joined an ongoing legal effort to open the Fort Worth Roman Catholic Diocese files concerning seven clerics accused of abusing children. A hearing is set next month in state District Judge Len Wade's court to hear the arguments in the case.

In the court filings, two of the women say that the Rev. Joseph Tu Ngoc Nguyen groped them "under the guise of counseling or confession" when they were young adults at St. Matthew Catholic Church in Arlington in the 1990s.

The third, who is now a teacher in Tarrant County, says she was 13 when the conduct occurred in Arlington in the 1970s, according to court documents and the women's attorney.

The woman's mother "apparently interrupted his sexual advances against her child," and Tu was sent to Iowa as a result, according to Tuesday's filing.

Tu, his attorney and the Fort Worth Diocese did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

An investigation in the 1990s by Tu's religious order, the Dominicans, determined that he presents no danger to children.

Tu is the only one of the accused priests identified by the diocese who is still in active ministry. He now serves in Houston.

The women say releasing the priest's files would help them heal from the abuse they say they suffered and prevent others from being injured. Tu's attorney, H. Allen Pennington Jr. of Fort Worth, has said that Tu's 16-page file constitutes medical, personnel and employment records that should remain private.

One of the three women said she was surprised to learn that Tu first faced accusations in 1977, more than a decade before she informed the Fort Worth Diocese in the early 1990s. At the time, Tu was at St. Matthew.

Another said her purpose in taking legal action is "to get him pulled from priestly ministry permanently."

Last year, Galveston-Houston Archbishop Joseph A. Fiorenza wrote a letter to parishioners at Tu's parish, Holy Rosary Catholic Church, stating that no complaints had surfaced against the clergyman in 11 years of ministry there.

In 1993, Tu was removed from St. Matthew after accusations, including those of two other minors, were made against him. Tu was cleared of abusing the children by an investigation conducted by the Southern Dominican Province of St. Martin de Porres in Metairie, La.

Tu was allowed to return to active ministry because the "claims were not substantiated as acts of sexual abuse against minors," according to a June statement by the Dominicans.

The Fort Worth Diocese has declined to discuss how it handled Tu's case and has referred all questions to his religious order.

In all, seven people who said they were abused by priests have intervened in legal action by the Star-Telegram and The Dallas Morning News asking Wade to reconsider his decision to seal the files.

The records were sealed as part of a lawsuit filed by two men who accused the Rev. Thomas Teczar of abusing them in the 1990s while they were living in Ranger. Last year, the diocese agreed to a $4.15 million out-of-court settlement with the men. Teczar has said he did not abuse the men.

The three women are represented by Tahira Khan Merritt, who also represented the two men in the Teczar case. Last month, Merritt filed another intervention in the case for four men who said they were abused by the Rev. James Reilly, who is deceased. Unlike the Reilly filing, the three women asking for Tu's records are not seeking monetary damages from the diocese.

 
 

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