|Diocese Claims No Abuse Reports
By Andy Grimm
December 5, 2008
Gary Diocese officials say a lawsuit filed Wednesday against former priest Richard Emerson was the first time they had heard of any local parishioners alleging sexual misconduct by the priest.
"I?have not heard anything but what I have read in the newspaper,"?said Bishop Dale Melczek on Thursday. "I?have not heard (abuse allegations) from anybody. We have had nobody come forward in the last six months come to the diocese."
In the suit, a parishioner at St.?Thomas More in Munster claims Emerson molested him repeatedly when the boy was 11, in 2003. Church officials began an investigation of what is the first to allege sexual abuse by Emerson during the time the priest was assigned to Northwest Indiana parishes.
But the alleged abuse took place only a year before two Florida men filed lawsuits against Emerson claiming he abused them while he was pastor of a church in Orlando.
The alleged victim, now 16 and living in Hobart, did not tell his parents about the abuse until six months ago, said his attorney Joseph Saunders. Melczek said three women from the St. Thomas parish came to him with "concerns"?about Emerson after the Orlando allegations surfaced in 2004, but none of them said Emerson had abused anyone at the parish.
"I?know this for sure, that allegation was not brought to our attention in 2003, or we would have acted on it,"?Melczek said.
Attorneys for the alleged victim and his parents said Thursday the family contacted police in Munster. Munster police, finding the alleged sexual misconduct took place in Monticello, Ind., where Emerson has a home, referred them to authorities in White County.
The White County Prosecutor's office on Wednesday confirmed a criminal investigation is ongoing, apparently conducted by the White County Sheriff's Department. Sheriff John Roberts did not return calls Wednesday or Thursday.
Plaintiffs in the Florida cases, which did not result in criminal charges because the alleged victims did not report the incidents until after the statute of limitations has expired, claimed Emerson assaulted them during trips to the home in Monticello.
Attorneys in the case have found invoices showing Emerson ordered pornographic DVDs and had them delivered to the house as recently as 1999.
Letters between Melczek and Vatican officials mention the three women approaching the bishop about Emerson in 2004, and that Melczek had heard complaints about Emerson's relationships with boys in the diocese as early as 1992. But none of those complaints mentioned sexual abuse, merely the appearance of an inappropriately close relationship, Melczek said Thursday.
"There were no allegations about sexual abuse at all. There were concerns expressed that he had taken boys who were minors on outings and vacations, and I warned Father Emerson about that,"?Melczek said.
"I just thought it was inappropriate that he would do that.
"But there was never a concern expressed about sexual abuse or sexual misconduct."
In a letter to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who since was elected Pope Benedict XVI, Melczek said Emerson denied the allegations, but agreed to leave the priesthood after an investigation by an independent Gary Diocese panel found the accusations against Emerson were "credible."
Marc Pearlman, an attorney for the plaintiff, said letters between church officials contain phrases that have surfaced in other clergy abuse cases. One letter, from a Florida bishop to former Gary Bishop Norbert Gaughan in 1991, asks Gaughan to accept Emerson back in the Gary diocese because Emerson "is giving inappropriate attention to two teen sons of a particular family, especially the 15-year-old."
"They never mention anything in detail, but there are code words,"?Pearlman said. "I?don't know if my client went to the diocese (in Gary). I?don't know that I?would encourage them to, because I don't think you get much satisfaction."
Contact Andy Grimm at 648-3073 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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