Another Suit Filed against Diocese

By Bill Dries
Daily News
September 12, 2008

A Catholic priest who led youth groups in the 1970s has been accused in another civil lawsuit alleging child sexual abuse, according to The Daily News Online,

Father Paul W. St. Charles is accused in the latest John Doe lawsuit filed Tuesday against the Catholic Diocese of Memphis.

It is the second Circuit Court lawsuit in three weeks naming St. Charles, filed by attorneys Karen Campbell of Apperson, Crump & Maxwell PLC and Gary K. Smith.

Four other lawsuits accusing St. Charles were settled by the church in summer 2007 as the Memphis diocese moved to settle several other abuse lawsuits naming other Memphis priests.

The most recent lawsuit was filed by a 52-year-old man who, along with his family, was a parishioner at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in Frayser during the early 1970s. St. Charles was associate pastor of the church during those years. John Doe was an altar boy.

"During this time period, (St. Charles) invited John Doe to go to a drive-in movie in Frayser," according to the lawsuit. Despite the child being grounded by his parents, the lawsuit alleges St. Charles talked them into letting the boy go to the movie.

At the movie, St. Charles spread a blanket over their laps as they sat together and sexually abused the boy under the blanket, the suit claims.

"Afterward, (St. Charles) complained that the blanket was soiled," the lawsuit reads as it details alleged abuse at the same drive-in for the next eight to nine months. "Finally, when Doe was able to reject Father St. Charles' advances, the priest became mad."

The details about the drive-in are similar to those of several of the other lawsuits naming St. Charles.

Allegations of depravity

Memphis Bishop J. Terry Steib suspended St. Charles from all priestly duties in 2004. Steib was not bishop during St. Charles' time in Memphis. He acted on the recommendation of a diocesan review board, which reviewed a complaint filed with the diocese by a man who claimed St. Charles sexually abused him in the 1970s.

The board concluded it was "more likely than not" that St. Charles did what the man said. The unidentified man is not among those who have filed a lawsuit.

Church leaders have said Steib followed an established procedure for dealing with the abuse claims against St. Charles as soon as abuse was reported. Steib has not commented on any of the cases, citing his role as a defendant.

St. Charles, who was head of diocesan youth programs, including the popular Catholic Youth Organization program in the early 1970s, has denied any wrongdoing. He has not been charged with a crime.

The allegations against him all date back to the 1970s and early 1980s, making them difficult, if not impossible, to prosecute because of the legal statute of limitations on the alleged offenses.

St. Charles is not a defendant in the two most recent lawsuits. The suits claim Memphis church leaders knew or should have known he was a "dangerous sexual predator with a depraved sexual interest in young boys."

The settled lawsuits involving St. Charles claimed repressed memories of abuse by him surfaced in his alleged victims decades after they became adults. Some said news accounts of the church's suspension of St. Charles were a factor.

St. Charles retired in the mid-1980s and now lives in Nashville.

Another John Doe sexual abuse lawsuit Smith filed in 2004 accusing former Memphis priest Juan Carlos Duran is still pending in Circuit Court.


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