|Accusers Say Rowlett Priest Has Long History of Inappropriately Touching Women, Girls
By Matthew Haag And Sam Hodges
Dallas Morning News
June 29, 2010
When Mary O'Dell learned that a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Dallas faces accusations of inappropriately touching women and two teenage girls, she blanched.
O'Dell said she had her own trials with the Rev. Robert Crisp 35 years ago. She was 12 years old and recalls Crisp, then a recently ordained 26-year-old priest, kissing her on the mouth and telling her he wanted to marry her.
"This has been going on for too long," said O'Dell, speaking publicly about Crisp for the first time. "Nothing has been done. I thought maybe the diocese would have stopped him."
And others say that, going back across parishes and decades, Crisp has engaged in questionable conduct toward women and girls. One woman said she went to him for marriage counseling and ended up joining him in a two-year affair.
Crisp has not been charged with a crime and has not faced serious church sanctions until recently, when several female parishioners at Rowlett's Sacred Heart Catholic Church complained that he rubbed his bare feet against their legs and stroked their necks and backs. The Diocese of Dallas alerted Child Protective Services, and now the Rowlett police are investigating. No charges have been filed by the police, and no agency has found he acted improperly.
Bishop Kevin Farrell sent a letter to Sacred Heart parishioners in May saying Crisp had asked for a six-month leave of absence. Farrell also said that Crisp would not be returning to Sacred Heart.
Then last week, Farrell's spokeswoman said that he now has no plans to reassign Crisp anywhere.
"Because of the public nature of the allegations, his ministry at this point is totally ineffective," said Annette Gonzales Taylor, the diocese's communications director.
Crisp, 61, declined an interview request. In a statement released through the diocese in May, Crisp said: "I would like to extend my sincere apology to anyone who was offended by my behavior. I understand that my actions caused discomfort for some, and I am truly sorry for this. I appreciate that the diocese has reported this to the authorities so that all parties can feel these concerns are given serious and thoughtful attention."
He said, "I am currently working with a counselor and intend to learn from this experience and develop a much better understanding of personal and professional boundaries."
Taylor would not discuss Crisp's personnel record in depth, citing privacy requirements.
But she said that the diocese had received no previous allegations against Crisp of misconduct with minors.
'It was just weird'
Crisp was ordained in 1975 and has served a number of Dallas-area parishes since. Months after ordination, O'Dell said, Crisp began to pay her lots of attention.
While an assistant pastor at St. Pius X Church in Far East Dallas, Crisp called at home on her private line, invited himself over to her house, and asked if he could follow along when she babysat, O'Dell said.
"It was obviously the wrong thing to do," she said. "But I was a 12-year-old girl who was probably liking the attention."
O'Dell's younger sister, Sarah Carzoli, said she also received unwanted touching from Crisp when she attended St. Pius X School. Carzoli said that Crisp chased her around the church's playground and tickled her even though she told him to stop
But his apparent affection for O'Dell lasted several years, she said. She said that he once kissed her on the mouth. It was her first kiss. Later, she said, he promised her that he would seek the pope's permission to marry her.
When O'Dell graduated from St. Pius X School and went on to high school, she said, Crisp came there during lunch period and sat at her table.
"It was at that point that I started to push away from him," said O'Dell. "It was just weird."
She said she never told the church about Crisp's behavior.
Allegations of affair
Vicki Moo recalls that in the early 1980s her marriage was crumbling, and she hoped to save it. She said she reached out to Crisp, then in his second stint at St. Pius.
From the outset, Moo said, Crisp seemed little interested in helping her preserve the marriage. At their first session, Moo said, Crisp made her feel uncomfortable by placing his hand on top of hers. He later invited himself over to her house, she said, and tucked her into bed.
"That's when it turned from innocent to me thinking that this man was not trying to help me," Moo said. "He's trying to have a relationship with me."
She said they started to take strolls around Lake Ray Hubbard and had dinner dates at Chili's, where Crisp would remove his shoes and rub Moo's legs underneath the table. Moo said that Crisp would buy a night at a motel, where the two had sex despite his celibacy vows as priest.
Meanwhile, Moo said, any hopes of saving her marriage had ended. She said Crisp told her that Bishop Thomas Tschoepe had learned about their relationship and tried to end it by reassigning Crisp away from St. Pius. But the relationship continued, she said, adding, "I knew it was wrong."
Moo said the bishop, now deceased, next sent Crisp to a counseling center for priests in St. Louis. There, Moo said, he reaffirmed his commitment to the priesthood and their two-year relationship ended.
He returned to the diocese some months later, Moo said, and was assigned to a new parish. But Moo said that Crisp still had a key to her house. Moo, who had then remarried, said her husband wrote a letter to Tschoepe demanding the key back.
It was returned the next day, she said.
Taylor, again citing privacy constraints, would not answer questions about Moo's account or whether Crisp had been sent for counseling.
Confronting the priest
Sometime after Crisp started at Duncanville's Holy Spirit Catholic Church in the late 1980s, a husband came to the parish council with concerns over Crisp's behavior toward his wife.
Susan Lichtenwalter, who was then the parish council president, said the members decided to investigate Crisp.
For six months, she said, the members observed Crisp with staff members and parishioners during meetings, and before and after Mass. Lichtenwalter said she and council members saw Crisp giving women lengthy hugs, rubbing their necks and backs, and stroking his feet against their legs.
"In the workplace, you would never do this," Lichtenwalter said. "If you have an intimate relationship, you might."
After six months, the members confronted Crisp, shared what they saw and told him that they would tell Tschoepe. Crisp cried and said that would ruin him, Lichtenwalter said.
The council went anyway, she said, and told Tschoepe and the vicar general, Monsignor Robert Rehkemper, what they witnessed. The council demanded that the bishop remove Crisp from Holy Spirit.
Taylor confirmed that Tschoepe met with a parish council about Crisp, and that Crisp once experienced a "crisis of vocation."
But Crisp would be reassigned to two more parishes, Good Shepherd in Garland and Sacred Heart in Rowlett.
The Catholic Church has been criticized for reassigning priests with a background of sexual misconduct.
Taylor said "it's a new day" in the church and in the Dallas Diocese, with scrupulous enforcement of tougher rules meant to guarantee children's safety in particular. She reiterated that Farrell has no plans to reassign Crisp.
But Lichtenwalter joins Moo and O'Dell in saying that the diocese should have long ago removed Crisp for parish ministry.
"For them to continue to do nothing and allow him to be around women and girls, to me, that is irresponsible," she said.
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