Rare Legal Twist Pits One Diocese against Another
By Trisha Volpe
Minnesota Public Radio
March 27, 2014
The Diocese of New Ulm is suing a diocese and a religious order in Ireland, accusing both of sending a priest to New Ulm in the early 1980s without telling the diocese that the priest had a long history of being accused of child sexual abuse. Father Francis Markey, who is now deceased, is accused of abusing boys while serving at the Catholic Church of St. Joseph in Henderson, Minn. Jeffrey Thompson/MPR News
The Diocese of New Ulm is suing another diocese and a religious order, accusing both of sending a priest to New Ulm in the early 1980s without telling the diocese that the priest had a long history of being accused of child sexual abuse.
In a rare legal move, the diocese filed suit in February against the Diocese of Clogher in Ireland and a religious order known as the Servants of the Paraclete for sending the Rev. Francis Xavier Markey to Minnesota.
Markey became a priest in Ireland in 1952. Documents filed in several court cases show that he was accused of sexually abusing young boys as far back as the 1960s, and received treatment several times in Ireland and England before coming to the United States.
The New Ulm Diocese lawsuit stems from another lawsuit filed in 2013 by a man who accuses Markey of groping him and his two brothers at the family's home in 1982.
At the time of the alleged assaults, the man said, Markey was filling in at rural churches in Henderson and Jessenland. The family, which attended both churches, invited Markey to dinner.
"He was at our parish for, like, seven to ten days and he was in our house for two hours and he abused three people," the man said.
MPR News and KARE 11 are not identifying the man because he wants to protect his family.
While in the United States, Markey went to the Paraclete treatment facility in New Mexico, which is known for taking in problem priests with various addictions and sexual problems, according to court documents.
The Paracletes sent several priests to the New Ulm Diocese to take part in a counselor training program at the Willmar State Hospital, said the Rev. Francis Garvey in a recent deposition in another lawsuit. Garvey ran the Willmar program in the 1980s.
Markey arrived in Willmar in December 1981, according to the New Ulm Diocese, and did some temporary parish work. He left the diocese seven months later.
Markey died in 2012 while awaiting trial on child rape charges in Ireland.
In the complaint against the Diocese of Clogher and the Servants of the Paraclete, the New Ulm Diocese argues it never would have accepted Markey for assignment within the diocese if it knew about his history.
Legal experts familiar with clergy sex abuse cases say the move is unique because Catholic officials rarely make accusations against others in the church. Victims of clergy sex abuse have long said the Catholic Church is closed within its ranks, with priests and church leaders loyal to each other.
"This is the first time I've seen it in a dozen years of handling these cases," said Pat Noaker, an attorney who represents the man who accused Markey of abusing him, and other victims of clergy sex abuse. "[The Diocese of Clogher and the Servants of the Paraclete] would have told the diocese. So that's why I think that these suits are rare because I think that communication is happening and they're putting them in parishes anyway."
In 2003, the Diocese of San Bernardino in California sued the Diocese of Boston for damages after church officials in Boston failed to disclose a priest's history of sexual molestation. The suit was later dropped. Also in 2003, an order of Franciscan Friars sued the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, demanding church officials pay any award from a lawsuit claiming a Franciscan priest molested an altar boy in 1972.
Attorneys who have taken on the Catholic Church in abuse cases say by bringing the Diocese of Clogher and the Servants of the Paraclete into the Markey lawsuit, it may be looking for others to share in the blame.
"This is just something that they're doing to keep the microscope off them because if the microscope focuses it's going to see what they did," Noaker said.
Another expert says the legal move appears to be all about money. Facing multiple lawsuits related to abusive priests, New Ulm may be looking for others to share in the cost of any awards to victims if the diocese is found liable, said Richard Sipe, a former Benedictine monk who has been called on as an expert witness in sexual abuse cases across the country.
"They point the finger at someone else," Sipe said. "It is unusual. No question about that."
Sipe said dioceses and religious orders have tried to blame each other in depositions for the treatment of suspected pedophile priests, but fear of multi-million dollar awards may be prompting more direct accusations.
In court documents filed in connection with another Markey case, the Diocese of Clogher said it did not assign Markey to work in Minnesota on behalf of the diocese and has no record of approving Markey to transfer to any program in Minnesota.
Daniel Haws, a Minnesota attorney who represents the Servants of the Paraclete, said his client has no knowledge of the New Ulm Diocese lawsuit and has not been served with a complaint.
In response to the lawsuit by the man who accused Markey of abuse, the New Ulm Diocese said in a statement that it "deeply regrets the long-lasting and devastating effects of sexual misconduct on the part of clergy."
The New Ulm Diocese also confirmed that Markey worked at St. Andrew Parish in Granite Falls. Another man recently sued the diocese alleging that Markey abused him in Granite Falls.
Markey left the New Ulm diocese in June 1982. Noacker said there is no record of anyone ever telling police about what Markey had done.
The Diocese of Clogher did not respond to a request for comment on the New Ulm lawsuit.