Priest's Case Highlights Reforms' Flaws, Critics Say
Houston Cleric Accused of FW Abuse Still Serves; Order Says He's Cleared
By Brooks Egerton firstname.lastname@example.org
The Dallas Morning News [Fort Worth TX]
February 18, 2006
The priest has been accused of molesting at least three girls and three young women in the Fort Worth Catholic Diocese, and church records show he had a "very underdeveloped psycho-sexual personality."
Yet the Rev. Joseph Tu remains on duty in Houston. His superiors say that a past investigation cleared him and that they have no new information to warrant a suspension.
Similar cases around the country have raised questions about whether "zero tolerance" discipline reforms adopted by the nation's bishops four years ago in Dallas have taken hold. Critics say no, blaming everything from weak policies to lack of will.
A lay review board appointed by the bishops will meet this weekend in Austin to discuss whether the policies need to be strengthened.
Austin Bishop Gregory Aymond, chairman of the bishops' committee on child and youth protection, declined to comment in advance of a planned news conference today.
One key issue being discussed is whether an accused clergyman should be suspended pending an investigation or – as current policy holds – only on a finding of "sufficient evidence" of abuse.
Some current and former board members say suspension should happen as soon as an allegation is raised. They cited a recent Chicago controversy in which a priest accused of molesting one boy stayed on duty during a police investigation and allegedly molested another boy. Authorities have since charged the clergyman with abusing both youths.
Dr. Angelo Giardino, a board member from Houston, said he understood why victims and others were upset.
"There should be a lot of upset people," said Dr. Giardino, medical director of Texas Children's Health Plan Inc. "There is a constant need to keep a focus on this."
Catholic leaders, he said, should do what leaders of other professions do – "the person goes on paid leave" when accused.
A spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops questioned whether other professions really operated that way.
"To be accused of this [and suspended] is almost the end of your effectiveness," the Rev. Francis Maniscalco said, adding that he saw no signs of backsliding on the reforms.
"The evidence is that the bishops have acted," he said. "Over 700 priests have been removed."
But Anne Burke, an Illinois appeals court justice who recently left as head of the board, said many bishops still don't want to crack down on their clergy.
"You wonder what planet these people are on," said Judge Burke, who is Catholic. "If it wasn't so terrible, it'd be laughable."
Some clergy-abuse victims say that writing tougher policies isn't going to help.
"It's people, not policies, that need to change," said David Clohessy, leader of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP. Bishops "never experience any consequences ... for violating any part of the policies, so it doesn't matter if the policies are expanded."
SNAP, which asked to meet with the review board, said that at least four priests in Illinois had recently remained in ministry after being "credibly accused."
Illinois church officials have acknowledged that they should have moved faster in at least one of those cases.
In the various cases around the country, questions have arisen not just about the timing of a suspension but also about what should trigger an investigation, who should investigate and how, and what constitutes sufficient evidence. Other issues include definitions of abuse and how seriously to consider the alleged abuse of adults.
Father Tu's case highlights many of the issues.
None of his accusers, for example, has alleged that he made genital contact with them. That leads some of them to suspect that church officials "are splitting hairs and saying it's not so bad," as one accuser told The Dallas Morning News this week.
She is one of four women whose allegations against Father Tu have been made public recently. Using their real names, the four filed affidavits this week in Tarrant County state district court in a case involving access to church records. The church has previously acknowledged two other accusers of Father Tu.
The accusers say the priest initiated a variety of unwanted contact, ranging from tight hugs and kisses on the lips to groping of buttocks and breasts. The abuse allegedly occurred from the late 1970s to the late 1980s.
The woman who spoke to The News said Father Tu fondled her breasts in 1977, when she was 13 or had just turned 14.
She said the incident occurred after he called and asked to visit her home. Although she said no, because her mother was away, he showed up anyway, the woman said. She said she quickly reported the fondling to her mother, who alerted another priest.
Father Tu soon was sent to Iowa on "study leave," according to a brief work history the Fort Worth Diocese released last year.
Regina Wedig, an attorney for Father Tu's religious order, the Dominicans, told The News it is not investigating the woman's allegations because she has not pressed her claims with the order.
Officials in the Galveston-Houston Archdiocese, where the priest works now, said they're keeping him on duty while waiting for the Dominicans to investigate. The archdiocese typically does not suspend accused people unless there is an allegation of recent abuse, spokeswoman Annette Gonzales Taylor said.
Father Tu has declined to talk with reporters, Ms. Wedig said. She and Ms. Taylor say he has had an exemplary record since moving to Houston.
Fort Worth church officials refused to discuss Father Tu.
The officials made the priest's work history public when, for the first time, they identified him and several other priests who had been accused of abusing children. The diocese acted after The News and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram asked a Tarrant County judge to unseal detailed records on those priests, which were provided to attorneys for accusers of one of the clerics.
Church representatives say the records should remain sealed to protect the privacy of all involved. The newspapers' legal action is pending, with a hearing set for Thursday.
Other allegations that surfaced recently come from women who say Father Tu attacked them when they were young adults.
There is no national standard for handling such cases – the bishops' 2002 reforms apply only to juvenile alleged victims.
"Church officials could care less," said Janet Buchanan, one of the three women. She said Father Tu kissed, hugged and groped her in the early 1980s, when she was in her early 20s and had just quit working as a nun.
"I was a very vulnerable, young, immature adult then," said Ms. Buchanan, who still works for the church in Pennsylvania. "I was going to him for spiritual guidance, and he completely abused that."
She and another alleged adult victim originally complained in the early 1990s to Fort Worth Bishop Joseph Delaney, now deceased. They started speaking publicly only recently, after learning from news reports that Father Tu was working in Houston.
After their initial complaints, Bishop Delaney put Ms. Buchanan on a diocesan panel that investigated sexual misconduct. And Father Tu's religious order sent him to a treatment center for several months, according to a letter the bishop sent Ms. Buchanan.
"Because of a very underdeveloped psycho-sexual personality, he may have been prone to act inappropriately," the bishop wrote in early 1994, shortly after Father Tu's return from therapy. "I have come to realize more and more the need to pursue any hint of misconduct until every matter is open and dealt with."
About the same time, Bishop Delaney received reports that Father Tu had molested two young girls in 1980. Soon, the priest was transferred to Houston.
"His superiors have decided that he can profit from living in a Dominican community [there] with the support of several other of his brothers," the bishop wrote to Ms. Buchanan.
The Dominicans said in a written statement to reporters last year that the clinical assessment of Father Tu "completely ruled out any sexual attraction to minors."
Church officials have refused to describe what Father Tu was accused of doing to the girls, who have never spoken publicly about the matter.
But Ms. Buchanan, who knew them, said they have told her that the priest had them sit on his lap, hugged them and kissed them on their lips. The girls were in elementary school at the time, she said.
Ms. Wedig, the order's attorney, wouldn't confirm or deny Ms. Buchanan's account.
The Dominicans' statement said that the girls' allegations "were not substantiated as acts of sexual abuse against minors."
Ms. Wedig said that should not be construed to mean the order believed the accusers were lying. She would not comment on whether the alleged acts, if true, would constitute sexual abuse.
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