Group to Interview Priest in Sex Abuse Case

By Bill Dries
The Daily News
February 13, 2009

This morning, a group of attorneys and a court reporter are to meet at the Nashville home of a retired and suspended Catholic priest to talk about his time in Memphis.

The Rev. Paul St. Charles, who served in Memphis from the 1960s to the 1980s, is accused in six civil lawsuits of sexually abusing teenagers.

The suits have been filed in Shelby County Circuit Court since 2005. The former head of Diocesan Youth Services is named in more lawsuits than any of the other five Memphis priests named in similar civil actions.

Attorneys in a John Doe lawsuit filed in September against the Catholic Diocese of Memphis sought to take the deposition from St. Charles after he talked in December to a reporter for a Nashville newspaper. Attorneys Gary K. Smith and Karen M. Campbell also cited St. Charles’ poor health. He is 69 years old and confined to a wheelchair. He retired from the priesthood in the mid-1980s as he battled health problems.

Circuit Court Judge Karen Williams approved the deposition over objections from attorneys for the diocese.

Haunted by sins

The diocesan attorneys contended there was “no urgent need for the parties to incur the expense of such deposition” at least until the Tennessee Supreme Court rules on the statute of limitations in a similar civil lawsuit alleging child sexual abuse by another Memphis priest.

St. Charles was ordained in 1966 and assigned to a Memphis parish in 1968. But the court document requesting the deposition says St. Charles was a seminarian at St. Bernard Seminary in Cullman, Ala., as early as 1960. The attorneys for the plaintiff want to see any documents St. Charles has about a 1960 investigation “that led to your placement on probation.”

St. Charles will also be asked about his 1967 transfer from Sacred Heart Parish in Knoxville.

St. Charles was suspended in 2005 by Catholic Bishop J. Terry Steib. Steib followed the recommendation of a Diocesan Review Board that concluded it was “more likely than not” that St. Charles sexually abused a teenager in the 1970s.

The teenager, now an adult, had complained to the church several years before the recommendation. The man is not a plaintiff in any of the lawsuits settled or pending against the diocese that involve St. Charles.

The Diocesan Review Board’s hearing in August 2005 included a presentation by St. Charles and will be among the items he is questioned about, according to the request for today’s deposition.

Prayer and penance

Following his suspension from all priestly duties, St. Charles was told by diocesan officials that he was to spend “the rest of his life in prayer and penance,” according to diocesan spokesman the Rev. John Geaney in an October cover story for The Memphis News, sister publication of The Daily News.

But in a December article in The Nashville Scene newspaper, St. Charles told a reporter, “What they keep forgetting is that I’m a victim too.”

“If I am who they say I am, then someone from Nashville would make these horrible claims too,” he was quoted as saying. “Any sin I committed 35 years ago I confessed to 35 years ago. Paid my repentance 35 years ago. And that’s the gospel truth.”

In the John Doe case St. Charles will be questioned about today, he is accused of sexually abusing a teenage boy in the early 1970s while serving as associate pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in Frayser. The teen was a parish altar boy.

St. Charles took the boy to a drive-in movie near the church with the permission of the boy’s parents, according to the lawsuit. St. Charles allegedly abused the boy after covering their laps with a blanket as they sat in his car and watched the movie. The abuse continued for eight to nine months, according to the legal claim.

Among the items attorneys for the plaintiff are asking St. Charles to produce during today’s deposition is the blanket.

The chronology of events is similar to other allegations against St. Charles.

Widespread problem

Meanwhile, another civil lawsuit against the diocese is scheduled for trial in two to three weeks.

The John Doe case involving Father Juan Carlos Duran is the oldest pending case filed alleging child sexual abuse by a Memphis priest.

Smith and Campbell are also representing the plaintiff in that suit before Circuit Court Judge Charles O. McPherson.

A hearing on pretrial motions in the case was opened to the public last week. During the hearing, attorneys for the diocese and the Dominican religious order, of which Duran was a member, revealed that 15 priests have been accused privately and publicly of child sexual abuse during assignments in West Tennessee since the Diocese of Memphis was formed in 1971.


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