|Sex Abuse Records on Priest Who Served in Arlington and Bedford Should Be Released, Court Says
By Darren Barbee
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
June 21, 2008
Confidential files containing allegations that a priest who served in Arlington and Bedford sexually abused two sisters should be opened to the public, the 2nd Court of Appeals in Fort Worth ruled this week.
"Protection of children from abuse is of the utmost importance in Texas," the state court wrote. "We, therefore, conclude that the [priest's] files are of legitimate public concern."
The court also wrote that the Rev. Joseph Tu Ngoc Nguyen's conduct, which Tu conceded was "inappropriate and unacceptable," falls within the Texas Family Code's definition of child abuse.
In 2006, state District Judge Len Wade unsealed the confidential files of several priests, including Tu, who were accused of sexual abuse of minors while serving in the Fort Worth Roman Catholic Diocese.
Tu was the only priest to fight the court order, arguing in part that opening the files would violate his privacy rights.
Despite Tu's appeal, his files were inadvertently released with the other priests' records. Tu's attorney, H. Allen Pennington Jr. of Fort Worth, could not be reached for comment.
The Star-Telegram, The Dallas Morning News and victims of several of the priests initiated the files' release by asking Wade to unseal the records. Paul Watler, an attorney representing the newspapers, said that Tu has 15 days to ask the appeals court to reconsider its decision. He has up to 45 days to ask the Texas Supreme Court to consider reversing the appeals court decision.
Until those deadlines pass, the files will likely remain closed, Watler said.
Tu's files contain allegations that in the mid-1970s he inappropriately kissed two minor sisters. They also discuss the diocese's investigation and subsequent actions.
In court documents, Pennington has argued that the priest's repeated kissing of the sisters, even if true, was unacceptable conduct, not sexual abuse.
After Tu's case was publicized, several more women raised allegations against the priest, including a woman who said she was 13 when Tu fondled her breast.
That allegation, made in 2006, resulted in Tu's temporary suspension from the Houston church where he was then serving. Tu is a Dominican Order priest.
In 2007, the Fort Worth Diocese reported allegations to police that Tu abused a woman who was a preteen in the late 1970s. The statute of limitations bars prosecution of the case, police said.
Tahira Khan Merritt, a Dallas attorney representing eight of Tu's accusers, said the court's decision is "a real victory for the protection of children in Texas."
Merritt said the court records provided the only outlet for the diocese to be held accountable.
"The newspapers and victims were trying to make these things public," Merritt said, "so the public could judge for themselves what they were doing with Father Tu."
DARREN BARBEE, 817-390-7126.
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