|Church Secrets: Memphis Court Documents Unsealed in Catholic Sex-Abuse Lawsuit
Offending Priests Were Moved to Avoid Scandal; Diocese Admits Mistakes, Says It's Responding
By Lawrence Buser
April 7, 2010
The Catholic Diocese of Memphis settled a priest sexual-abuse lawsuit for $2 million, but now, a year later, the case is revealing a much broader and more detailed picture of abuse and secrecy in the diocese.
Records unsealed by court order Tuesday after 12 months of legal action by The Commercial Appeal show that at least 15 priests have been accused of sexual misconduct over some four decades in the Memphis diocese.
More than 10,000 pages of depositions, pleadings and documents also show abusive priests were moved quietly from parish to parish and diocese to diocese to avoid scandal and to protect the priests, the plaintiff's attorney said.
"Memphis was a microcosm of the overall scandal," said attorney Gary Smith, who represented the 14-year-old boy sexually abused by Father Juan Carlos Duran in February 2000. "Most of the victims don't come forward, but when they did, then Memphis handled it the way everyone else did: They swept it under the rug. They covered it up and did nothing or they'd move (the priest) somewhere else."
Local Catholic church leaders concede that mistakes have been made, but said they took immediate action to remove Duran and to deal with allegations of child sexual abuse more aggressively with strict reporting policies, abuse awareness training and other preventive measures.
"People need to know that the church is responding to these very serious crimes," said Father John Geaney, diocesan spokesman. "We must always be aware of the victims, and they certainly deserve our support. No one I know would deny that there has been abuse, and we have attacked it. In fact, the number of abuse cases by Catholic clergy is going down."
Cover-ups of hundreds of clergy child-abuse cases have come to light recently in Ireland, Brazil and Germany, with some of the criticism being lodged against Pope Benedict XVI for not removing pedophile priests when he was an archbishop in the early 1980s.
Nationally, multimillion-dollar settlements have been reached with thousands of claims that church leaders failed to protect children from pedophile priests.
Some dioceses filed for bankruptcy, and church leaders say settlements with victims now total about $2 billion in the United States.
The Duran case was filed in 2004 and was settled out of court last year, with the Memphis diocese paying $1.55 million and the Dominicans, Duran's order, paying some $450,000.
Thousands of pages of pleadings, documents and depositions were unsealed at the request of The Commercial Appeal and the Memphis Daily News. Acting on a judge's order, attorneys for both sides spent months removing names of victims and of priests with unsubstantiated allegations of abuse.
Included in the documents are:
— Details of Dominican Father Duran's checkered past, including a police report of lewd conduct with young boys in St. Louis just months before he was recruited to Memphis in 1999. Before he joined the Dominicans, Duran was expelled from the Franciscan order for sexual misconduct with a minor, a fact omitted in his brief résumé, which has a 31-year gap. The Dominicans did not reveal either incident to Memphis church officials, who themselves did little checking on his background.
— A 14-year-old boy's account of how Duran sexually molested him while at the Church of the Ascension in Raleigh. He said Duran often took him out at night, offered to hire a prostitute for him and initiated sexual acts, usually on church property. "It was a (Sunday school) classroom. ... We laid on the floor. We drank wine and we watched porno movies."
— Cards and letters of affection written by Father Richard Mickey in 1990 to a young man in college with whom he began a relationship when the student was at Memphis Catholic High School. Mickey says the man's claim that they often slept together and frequently kissed is exaggerated, but in the letters the priest writes emotionally about their relationship and signs them "I love you!!!! Mic." Mickey rejects the student's characterization that they were "dating," but tells lawyers in a 2008 deposition: "I think (the letters) do blur professional boundaries for a priest." Mickey could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
— Accusations of sexual abuse of a teenage boy by Father William Kantner that an investigation by Vicar General Msgr. Peter Buchignani determined to be credible in 2004. While the investigation was in progress, Bishop J. Terry Steib wrote a letter of good standing for Kantner, clearing the way for him to visit and perform services at a church in Mexico. The bishop made no mention of Kantner's sexual misconduct investigation and acknowledged that by not sharing that information he had put children at risk. "Looking back at it, that was not right," Steib said in a deposition. Kantner could not be reached, but court records indicate he has denied any sexual misconduct.
— Written admissions by former priest Daniel DuPree, who during an inquiry graphically detailed sexual acts with at least 14 victims in the early 1990s, most of them teenage boys. He then added, "These are all that I can remember." DuPree could not be reached.
Sexual abuse in the Catholic Church first made national headlines in the mid-1980s. In 2002, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops approved the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.
Two years later, results of an extensive study sponsored by the bishops showed that 10,667 complaints of sexual abuse had been lodged against 4,392 priests and deacons between 1950 and 2002.
"If that is not a public issue, then we would be hard-pressed to find one," said attorney Richard Hollow of Knoxville, who represents The Commercial Appeal. "This issue has to have a public airing."
About a dozen sexual-abuse suits have been filed against a half-dozen local priests and the Memphis diocese over the past seven years, with most being settled out of court.
-- Lawrence Buser: 529-2385
THEY SAID IT
"There is evidence that was produced of knowledge on the part of the bishops going back as early as 1959 of priests who sexually abused children, and they weren't put out of business at that time."
— Father Thomas Doyle, priest, addiction therapist and author
"Originally we knew of seven bad priests, then it got to be 10, then 15, and now who even knows the actual number?"
— David Brown, area director for SNAP
"We actively do everything we can to prevent abuse of any kind, and we have encouraged anyone who has felt victimized to come forward."
— Father John Geaney, spokesman for the Memphis diocese
"Silence and secrets are the fuel of sexual abuse. Forgiveness and consequences are not enemies. Don't let anyone sell you that soap. Most people just want it to go away."
— Rev. Tim Alexander, Church of Christ minister from Nashville
"It was a (Sunday school) classroom. ... We laid on the floor. We drank wine and we watched porno movies."
— 14-year-old boy, alleged victim of Father Juan Carlos Duran
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