The Buried Abuse of the Galveston-Houston Archdiocese
By Craig Malisow
January 17, 2017
On the phone, the former Houston priest didn’t recognize the name of the 13-year-old boy he molested in 1978.
So much time has passed since that third encounter with the boy, in the Town & Country Village movie theater in Memorial City, where the priest slid his hand into the boy’s jeans and masturbated him. It’s hard to keep track of these things, and besides, the priest says, it’s old news.
Father Walter Dayton Salisbury, now 85, has moved on with his life since pleading no contest and serving three years’ probation. He left Houston in the early 1980s for Washington, D.C., where he was charged with molesting another boy, then spent some time at a parish outside Mobile, where he was accused again, but not charged. He eventually returned to his home city, Bar Harbor, a quaint little town in coastal Maine, where he found an apartment across the street from a K-8 public school. He became active in the community, joining the Order of the Founders of the Patriots of America, whose website states that membership is open to men of “good moral character and reputation.”
Salisbury was one of more than a dozen priests named in a November 2016 press release by the local chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, as part of the group’s push for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston to publicly identify, for the first time, all of its priests who’d been accused or convicted of crimes against children.
When the Houston Press reached Salisbury in October for a comment on the group’s efforts, he chuckled. “I’m certainly not going to say anything to vigilantes, no,” he said in a New England accent, referring to the group (known as SNAP).
When the Press mentioned his Houston victim’s name, Salisbury said, “That doesn’t ring a bell at all.”
Told who it was, Salisbury said, “Good Lord, I mean...that’s 30 years ago, or whatever it is.”
Unlike Salisbury, his victim couldn’t so easily forget a name.
“The first time I ever ejaculated was from some dirty old man’s hand,” the victim told the Press in December. (We’re calling the man, who asked not to be named, “Darren.”)
He also never forgot about how, when the movie was over and Salisbury was driving him back home, the priest — who served for decades as the chaplain of Texas Southern University’s Catholic Newman Center — pulled over in an alley, unzipped his pants and put the boy’s hand around his penis.
Funny thing was, Darren — a bit of a rebel, which is why his parents scheduled counseling with a priest in the first place — had a knife in his pocket at the time. He could’ve cut the old man. But, he said, “I was scared to death.” He was a problem child back then — he’d already been arrested for burglary. He knew Salisbury could hold that over his head. “I was in trouble already,” Darren said. “I didn’t want to resist anything, because he had that, like, against me.”
Like most of the known priests who were accused of crimes against children while serving in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, Salisbury appears unscathed by past acts. Salisbury’s victim wasn’t as lucky. While he’s relatively happy now, there were hard years — alcohol, divorce. But, unlike with some other victims researched for this story, those hard years didn’t drive him to a premature death.
Unlike other dioceses throughout the country — Boston, Los Angeles, Orange County, among others — Galveston-Houston has escaped scandal. Advocates say this archdiocese has avoided scrutiny largely because of Texas’s rigid statute of limitations, which has stifled the kind of successful civil litigation that has forced other bishops and cardinals into disclosing the records of hundreds of predators.
As Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of the Massachusetts-based nonprofit Bishop Accountability, puts it, “Texas has one of the most victim-hostile statute[s] of limitations in the country.”
Although the religious order Salisbury worked under — the Josephites — and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, Maine, released statements on Salisbury’s crimes in 2004, Houston’s top Catholic clergy have acknowledged the diocese’s predator priests only if forced to through criminal charges, civil lawsuits or media reports.
The furthest nod toward transparency was in 2004, when then-bishop Joseph Fiorenza stated that 22 priests between 1958 and 2004 had been “credibly accused.” Their names, work histories or criminal records (if any) were not released.
But victims’ advocates believe that number is unrealistically low. As Barrett Doyle told the Press, “My educated guess is that an extraordinary amount of information about abuse of children by priests remains buried in that archdiocese.”
For years, the archdiocese has refused to identify its predator priests, and likely never will. But something happened last November to re-energize Houston SNAP members’ push for disclosure: Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston and a cardinal, was elected president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
After SNAP reached out to local media about the push for transparency, the Press looked into some of the names on its list.
With the help of records compiled by Bishop Accountability, the reviewed civil and criminal case files of some of the priests who paid very little for their crimes or escaped punishment entirely. Predators who, thanks to the archdiocese, were able to live in relative peace, while their victims are still suffering.
It took 43 years, but Michael Norris finally got a sense of justice.
Norris, the head of Houston’s SNAP chapter, was able to achieve this in part because, unlike other Houston SNAP members, his abuse occurred in his home state of Kentucky.
It was there that prosecutors charged 74-year-old priest Joseph Hemmerle with molesting Norris at a summer camp in 1973. Testifying on the stand, Norris was able to tell jurors exactly what he had told the Louisville Diocese in 2001, and which was ignored: that Hemmerle, a high school teacher and camp counselor, called Norris into his cabin one night under the pretense of treating the ten-year-old boy for poison ivy, and had Norris strip and stand on a stool. The priest then used his hands and mouth on the boy.
Hemmerle was found guilty in November, with the jury recommending a seven-year sentence. The priest will be formally sentenced in February. He has not been defrocked.
At trial, Hemmerle’s attorney accused Norris of making up a story for attention. But Norris said he felt utterly alone when Hemmerle was charged. “I’ve had more people come to me and tell me, ‘Hey, I believed you all along,’” Norris said. “I didn’t hear that up until he was found guilty.”
Norris knows that the Hemmerle case couldn’t be duplicated in Houston. All he wants the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston to do is identify the credibly accused priests and place them in positions away from children.
“If someone comes forward who was abused back in the ’70s or ’80s, they’re SOL,” Norris said. “There’s not a whole lot of recourse that they can [take]. But ultimately, I can tell you from experience: You’re not going to go public just to go public. You don’t do this to get attention — you’re trying to do the right thing. You’re trying to get the church to do the right thing.”
DiNardo and other officials with the archdiocese declined to comment for this story. But the archdiocese provided a statement:
“The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston fully cooperates with civil authorities regarding any allegations of clergy sexual abuse with minors. Since the adoption of the Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People by the U.S. Bishops in 2002, the Archdiocese has provided ongoing child abuse awareness and prevention training to all of its priests, deacons and employees, as well as parents and those volunteers who work with children…The Archdiocese also has an Archdiocesan Review Board, which meets quarterly to review any allegations of sexual abuse of a minor by a member of the clergy. In addition, the Archdiocese has a Victim Assistance Coordinator who provides outreach and facilitates counseling services to those who have been a victim of clergy abuse as a minor.”
The archdiocese’s tendency to protect accused child molesters is rooted in the checkered history of former bishop Joseph Fiorenza, whose participation in the Catholic Church’s scandal began before he moved to Houston.
While serving as the bishop of San Angelo in 1982, Fiorenza cautiously welcomed a known serial child molester into the fold. That priest, David Holley, was one of the Catholic Church scandal’s most notorious criminals, and he was ultimately convicted in 1993 of sexually abusing eight boys in New Mexico, between 1972 and 1974. He was sentenced to 275 years in prison, where he died in 2008. (Holley’s story, and that of his outspoken victim, Phil Saviano, is highlighted in the 2015 film Spotlight).
Letters among bishops regarding Holley’s proclivities, made public years after the fact, show that in 1982, Fiorenza wrote to Worcester, Massachusetts, Bishop Bernard Flanagan that he was “aware of some of [Holley’s] past difficulties, yet I do not know the extent of his problems.”
But, Fiorenza wrote, “With our shortage of priests, I am willing to risk incardinating him.”
Two years later, when Fiorenza was the bishop of Galveston-Houston, he allowed a priest who had abused a 13-year-old girl in Navasota to hold a post in a Galena Park parish. In 1990, the priest, Noe Guzman, was convicted of sexual abuse of a child, and served 90 days in the Grimes County Jail.
According to court records, the incident was investigated by Monsignor Daniel Scheel, who never bothered to learn the girl’s name.
Scheel said in his deposition that his major concern was the embarrassment the church might suffer if word of the sexual assault got out. His solution was to reprimand Guzman and tell him to stay away from the girl.
Guzman was never defrocked. His whereabouts are unknown, and he is one of the priests that Houston SNAP is asking the archdiocese to publicly acknowledge.
Although Fiorenza was deposed in the Guzman case, his deposition is not available in the Harris County District Clerk’s online record system. However, a 1992 Houston Chronicle article about the case states, “Fiorenza, in his deposition, said he had left the matter in Scheel’s hands.”
The Chronicle article also noted Scheel’s weak excuse for how the case was handled. “Things were a lot different then,” Scheel said. “We didn’t know about the tendency of these people to repeat their acts.”
In 2004, as part of a historic, yet hardly transparent, initiative, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops tasked the John Jay College of Criminal Justice with producing a report on abuse in the church, based largely on self-reported numbers. Covering the years 1950-2002, the report indicated that 4,392 priests and deacons had been accused of child sexual abuse, or 2.7 percent of the overall population of Catholic clergy working during that time.
That rate has risen to 5.6 percent today, according to Anne Barrett Doyle of Bishop Accountability, which calculates and reports the numbers annually. The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston has never amended its figure of 22 priests and 4 deacons — a 1 percent rate.
“That is just insane,” Barrett Doyle said, noting that in the small diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire, “We know of more than 90 accused clergy.”
The Manchester diocese’s abuse and cover-ups were made public by the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office, which, following media reports in 2002, convened a grand jury and subpoenaed roughly 9,000 pages of documents showing how the diocese regularly covered up allegations of abuse.
In 2003, just before the AG’s Office was about to seek indictments on multiple counts of endangering the welfare of a child, the diocese entered into an agreement with the AG’s Office requiring the diocese to submit to annual audits for five years, as well as other governmental oversight. Through the AG’s oversight, the diocese has identified 98 priests accused of sexual abuse.
But Fiorenza was never pressured into such disclosure, nor was his successor, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, whom Barrett Doyle calls “one of the less-transparent bishops in the United States.”
For one thing, Barrett Doyle said, DiNardo has not updated Fiorenza’s “absolutely preposterous” 2004 report on credibly accused clergy.
And, she said, in addition to being a low number, it’s useless without knowing all of the priests’ names.
“We don’t even know who they are,” Barrett Doyle said. “This is actually a public safety crisis…We don’t know where those perpetrators are, not to mention the dozens, if not hundreds, of allegations, that the archdiocese has rejected and they aren’t counting as ‘credible.’”
Although the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ policy defines sexual abuse, the archdiocese has historically had a fuzzy way of interpreting that policy. According to the conference’s 2002 policy and the resulting John Jay report, sexual abuse was defined as any instance where an adult used a child for “sexual gratification.” On paper, it’s a tough measure — there doesn’t even need to be physical contact in order for it to be considered abuse.
It’s not known if Father Noe Guzman, who abused the 13-year-old girl in Navasota, is on the list, even though archdiocesan officials went so far as to acknowledge that, at the very least, a 43-year-old man was moments away from penetrating a child.
Similarly, archdiocesan officials acknowledged, as vaguely as possible, that Father John Keller, who is currently the pastor at Prince of Peace Catholic Community near Tomball, inappropriately touched a 16-year-old boy at a parish in Spring.
The accusation surfaced in 2002, when the victim came forward after 20 years and claimed that, while on a trip out of town, Keller gave him wine, invited him into his bed and fondled him. Keller then allegedly wrote a series of love letters to the boy. (Keller did not respond to requests for comment, and the accuser declined to comment for this story.)
In June 2003, the Dallas Morning News obtained a copy of a letter that Fiorenza wrote to the victim earlier that year, in which Fiorenza stated that archdiocesan officials questioned Keller.
The newspaper reported that “Father Keller told the review board he had no sexual intent in ‘holding’ the teen, according to Bishop Fiorenza’s letter to the accuser.”
The bishop said that Keller denied any sexual abuse, but did admit that he “crossed a proper boundary by holding you [the victim] in a manner inappropriate for a priest,” according to the article, which also noted that Fiorenza wrote that Keller would require counseling “to ensure he is not at risk for future inappropriate behavior.”
Keller’s accuser was incredulous.
“He put his hands down my pants,” the man told the Morning News. “How could that not be sexual intent?”
In November, a handful of Houston SNAP members picketed outside Prince of Peace, holding signs saying things like “A Predator Priest Has Been in Your Parish.”
“They called the cops on us and had us leave,” chapter president Michael Norris said. “…We weren’t hurting anyone. All we were doing was trying to make people aware — keep your kids away from these people. Don’t trust them.”
Keller was not the only priest at Prince of Peace ever accused of inappropriate behavior with a child. In 1993, the parents of a young girl, identified only as “Jane Doe,” sued the archdiocese and Father Robert Ramon. The archdiocese did a masterful job of making sure the suit was not only quietly settled in 1995 but virtually wiped from the record: The suit does not turn up in a search of the Harris County District Clerk’s website. But the case’s docket history, which contains no specific information, is available on a different county database.
The Press only learned of its existence through the posting of a case number and brief description on the Bishop Accountability website. According to the site, Ramon was “accused of sexual misconduct with a minor female in 1991. Parish personnel were notified immediately; the diocese investigated and determined there was no evidence. Per the girl’s family’s request, the diocese provided counseling. The family’s contact w/ counselor ceased within few months and family threatened litigation.”
While attorneys on either side of a civil case can ask for certain records to be sealed, the motion to seal cannot itself be sealed. But, according to an attorney for the Harris County District Clerk’s Office, the entire Ramon file was sealed, including the motion, and it can only be unsealed with an order from the judge who presided over the case. The judge has since retired. Ramon died in 2014. The lawyer for the girl’s parents declined to comment.
There’s virtually no way to determine how many other lawsuits have been similarly buried.
A case that wasn’t sealed, involving the late Reverend Dennis Lee Peterson, is perhaps the most disturbing publicly available complaint against the archdiocese.
According to the man known as John Doe II in a 1999 lawsuit, he was first molested by Peterson when he was 14 and Peterson spent the night in his family’s home.
A social worker who operated a group home for troubled male teens before his ordination in 1973, Peterson had an eye for boys who needed special counseling. From 1969 to 1983, he oversaw the Houston Community Youth Center on Irvington Boulevard on the north side of Houston. He would later become a chaplain at the Harris County Juvenile Justice Center. He took boys on camping trips. Wherever there was a troubled boy, Peterson was there.
John Doe II — whom we’ll call Tim — met Peterson in 1972, when Tim’s parents felt the 14-year-old boy was running with the wrong crowd. According to Tim’s psychological evaluations contained in the court records, his parents often invited Peterson over for drinks. He liked Cuba libres. One night, after a few too many, Peterson decided to crash at the house.
Tim had taken the folding couch for the night. But, he told the psychologist, he was awakened by Peterson’s hands on his body. Tim was half in a daze, but he could feel that Peterson had ejaculated on him.
“You are so young — how can you keep it so long this way?” Peterson asked.
In the morning, Peterson was gone.
From that point on, Tim spent an average of two days a week with the priest, who sometimes left a $20 bill after their special sessions. Peterson plied the boy with Valium, marijuana and beer. He made the boy fellate him, and he would reciprocate.
Sometimes, Tim told the psychologist, “he would take his penis and put it against mine and...just go back and forth on himself.”
After these encounters, Tim said, Peterson would “jump in the shower...because he felt dirty after.”
Peterson often apologized to Tim for the size of his penis, which he felt was inadequate, saying, “I know I am older than you, and I am sorry that I am smaller than you…You will make a lot of women happy when you are older.”
Of course, that wasn’t true. Tim grew into a broken, alcoholic, drug-addicted mess who couldn’t truly make anyone happy, most of all himself. His third wife loved him, but she was a caretaker. She spent their few years together talking him down from the ledge.
At first Tim liked the attention from Peterson. But that dissipated. He felt rotten inside, especially when, according to his third wife, he learned that his sister, his younger brother and two of his friends — altar boys — were also being abused by Peterson.
“His two friends managed to get away from Dennis by killing themselves,” she told the Press. “[Tim] attempted to kill himself by shooting himself in the stomach. But he wasn’t able to get away. He didn’t die.”
Tim was afraid to tell his parents, assuming no one would believe him over a priest. The fear only increased after Peterson, who had a close relationship with deputy constables in Pasadena, began wearing guns on his hip and ankle. (Court records show that Peterson’s accusers believed he was a deputy constable, but it’s unclear if he was ever a licensed peace officer.)
Tim temporarily escaped by joining the Navy, but he could never get rid of Peterson, who resumed the abuse when Tim was an adult. A grown man, Tim was powerless over the man who had completely dominated him as a child.
“Even after we were married, Father Dennis — before I ever knew anything about it — would call the house, and [Tim] would just go into a rage,” his widow said. “And I didn’t understand why…One point, I remember him, as a grown man…curling up on the floor and crying.”
Later, when Tim finally told his wife about the abuse, she learned that Peterson had always told Tim that it was his fault, because he tempted the priest.
Sometimes, on especially hard benders, Tim would talk about killing Peterson “so he wouldn’t do this to anyone else,” the widow said.
Tim told the psychologist in November 1999 that, two months earlier, Peterson had called his sister to say he got a penis enlargement. He had no idea why he told his sister, who, along with his younger brother, was a plaintiff in the lawsuit.
They were joined in the suit by a man we’re calling Gary, who came into Peterson’s orbit under especially haunting circumstances.
One of four boys, Gary was the son of strict parents who were active in their Clear Lake church. They were the kind of parents who saw damnation on the horizon when, in 1985, they found 13-year-old Gary in possession of a quarter-ounce bag of pot. They called the police, and sent the boy to another active church member, David Hoop.
Hoop was a close family friend and active in church youth groups. But instead of counseling Gary, Hoop molested him. He gave Gary marijuana, orally copulated him and sucked on his toes. He loved toes.
Years later, Gary would tell his psychologist that Hoop “provided a security blanket — allowed me to escape from reality by giving me access to the drugs.”
His parents also must have felt Gary was getting the guidance he needed, because they soon sent another son to Hoop. But the boy told his parents that Hoop did things to him that he didn’t like. In 1988, Hoop was convicted of indecency with a child and sentenced to five years’ probation and a $500 fine.
Within a year, Hoop left the country and settled in the Bosnian town of Medjugorje, where, in 1981, a group of boys said they saw the apparition of the Virgin Mary appear on a mountaintop. The town became a tourist destination for Christian pilgrims. Hoop found a way to milk these pilgrims for money; he appears in a 1995 Harper’s magazine article about the legend surrounding the apparition. The story mentions Hoop’s gift store, Devotions, at the foot of the mountain, where pilgrims can buy all sorts of chintzy posters, CDs and figurines.
Gary’s parents believed their son would need counseling after what Hoop put him through. A police officer who attended their church recommended Peterson, who had a knack for troubled kids like Gary.
At their first session, when Gary told Peterson about Hoop, the priest brushed his hands on Gary’s crotch and asked, “Was it something like this that happened?”
Gary was both sickened by Peterson and intimidated by the pistol on his hip. He ran away from home and managed to avoid Peterson for several years, sticking mostly to the streets, where he turned tricks and kept himself as high as possible on any substance he could get.
In 1989, at age 17, Gary overdosed on barbiturates and wound up at Ben Taub. Upon his release, he called Peterson, who offered to put him up at his place. That night, Gary told the psychologist in the 1999 lawsuit, Peterson came into the guest bedroom, straddled Gary and made the teen touch his penis.
“I told him I was going crazy and couldn’t handle what was going on,” Gary told the psychologist. “He got scared and went to his room and locked the door.”
Afterward, Gary felt tremendous guilt. A few days later, he went to Peterson at the church for confession. Peterson told the teen that God had forgiven him.
The sexual abuse continued for several more years, even after Gary married for the first time. Like Tim, he couldn’t shake Peterson.
Then, in June 1996, Peterson called Gary in an agitated state.
“The priest was frightened about letters he received from Mr. Hoop,” the psychologist wrote. “Hoop threatened that he was going to expose [Gary] and the priest’s sexual relationship.” Peterson tried to convince Gary to fly to Bosnia and kill Hoop. Gary briefly considered it, but instead got sidetracked with another drug binge. That was only exacerbated when Peterson later called him with news about his penis enlargement.
In 1999, around the time of the civil suit against Peterson, Gary told police about the abuse. According to an affidavit, investigators asked Gary to call Peterson, get him to talk about the abuse, and record the conversation.
“I told Dennis Peterson that I needed to speak with him regarding the sexual acts that he performed on me,” Gary stated in his affidavit. “[Peterson’s] response to me was ‘Why do you want to talk to me about that?’ This conversation was recorded and turned over to the Houston police.”
When Peterson was deposed by Gary’s attorney around this time, the priest refused to discuss Gary. When asked about the date of his penis surgery, Peterson invoked his Fifth Amendment rights.
In October 1999, Peterson was charged with sexually assaulting Gary on two occasions in 1997, when Gary was 25. A grand jury declined to indict.
Because grand jury proceedings are secret, it’s unclear what evidence prosecutors brought forth. Records in the civil case show that Tim testified, but there’s no mention of Gary testifying. It’s unknown if the grand jury heard the tape-recorded telephone call, or if they heard from Gary’s wife, who was listening on another phone at the time of the call.
But the prosecution seems to have missed out on a key component of the case: David Hoop.
Gary’s psychologist’s notes show that Hoop was arrested for child molestation in Bosnia in 1998, and authorities there had contacted the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. They wanted to know if they should extradite. But by that time, according to Harris County District Clerk records, Hoop’s probation had been “unsatisfactorily terminated,” meaning that, even though he had fled the country, Houston authorities no longer had any interest in him.
Additionally, according to the psychologist’s notes, the district attorney asked Gary’s parents if they wanted Hoop extradited.
“They declined, deciding that they preferred that Hoop remain out of the country,” according to the notes.
However, by the time Peterson was charged in October 1999, Hoop was, by at least one account, back in the country.
According to a London-based journalist who interviewed Hoop in late 1998 and early 1999 while on assignment in Medjugorje, Hoop avoided serving any time in Bosnia, and flew to Liverpool shortly after the child-molestation charges. The journalist, who asked not to be named, said Hoop then relocated to Los Gatos, California.
It’s unclear if the prosecutor in Peterson’s case even knew that the priest and Hoop shared a victim, and that Hoop could have corroborated Gary’s allegations. Either way, Peterson walked.
The archdiocese managed to get the civil case dismissed, and in 2000, the 14th Circuit Court of Appeals kicked the case back to the trial court, ordering the parties to enter into mediation. The case was settled for an undisclosed amount.
Gary died in 2003, at age 30. Shortly before he died, still unable to shake the guilt that followed him to his grave, he went to the home of David Hoop’s ex-wife and asked for forgiveness.
That same year, Gary’s widow opened The New York Times and read a story about Robert Scamardo, a Houston attorney who had for years defended the archdiocese and who stuck up for Peterson in a 2000 article in the Houston Chronicle.
Scamardo had decided to come clean about the sexual abuse he said he suffered at the hands of an Austin priest when he was a teen. According to Scamardo, the Times reported, “most victims’ cases were beyond the statute of limitations, so the diocese could offer little to settle a case, perhaps just the cost of a short course of therapy…The settlements always had a confidentiality clause,” which specified “how much the victim would have to pay the church for breaking confidentiality.”
Scamardo made sure that wouldn’t happen to him though, telling the Times that he settled with the Diocese of Austin for $250,000.
Gary’s widow told the Press that she was so bothered by Scamardo’s story that she wrote him a letter. “We didn’t get all of that assistance that he got for him and his family, and I was angry about that.”
Scamardo was unavailable for comment.
According to Tim’s widow, “After the lawyers and all that, [Tim] got somewhere between $20-$30,000, and he literally just gave it away…His mind couldn’t cope with being paid hush money, and he didn’t want anything to do with it.”
He died in 2010 of cirrhosis. He was 42.
Peterson died in 2007. He was 60. It’s unclear if he was one of the “credibly accused” priests on the archdiocese’s list. There is no record of the archdiocese’s reaching out to other potential victims of a man who had nearly unparalleled access to troubled boys for four decades.
Two years before Peterson’s death, he and the archdiocese were sued by a man who said that Peterson had sexually abused him years earlier, when the victim was a teenage runaway stuck in a juvenile detention center.
According to the suit, Peterson picked out the boy as if he were candy on a shelf, and then escorted him to a constable’s station, where he retrieved a pistol and stuck it in his boot. He then allegedly took the boy back to his quarters at St. Michael Catholic Church near the Galleria and raped him over the course of 72 hours. The suit alleged that “parish staff were aware” that the boy was staying in Peterson’s quarters.
It appears that, by 2005, the archdiocese was tired of going to bat for Peterson. The victim quickly nonsuited, which suggests that the suit was settled, but that cannot be confirmed. Windle Turley, the Dallas attorney whose firm represented the victims in both Peterson suits, declined to speak for this story.
Today, David Hoop is living in an assisted-care facility in Omaha run by a company called Ambassador Health. He did not respond to multiple requests for comment. He’s active on social media, tweeting under the name “Dave Spielberg,” and posting photos of shirtless boys on Facebook, as well as videos of teens and adults wiggling their toes.
After Father Walter Dayton Salisbury ejaculated in 13-year-old Darren’s hand in the alley outside the movie theater, he drove the boy home and chatted with his parents.
Darren tried to keep his cool while Salisbury drank hot chocolate in the kitchen, but his mother could sense that something was wrong.
The boy held it together until Salisbury decided he wanted to ride Darren’s bike. That bike was Darren’s pride. No one messed with it. It was one badass bike.
But he was powerless to stop the 47-year-old priest from hopping on the seat and riding it down the block.
“That just pissed me off, man,” Darren told the Press. “He got on my bike, you know?”
After Salisbury left, Darren told his parents what had happened. He had always tried to hide his cigarette smoking from them, but that night, he recalled, “I just lit a cigarette right in front of them, with tears in my eyes.”
Unlike many other victims, Darren was lucky to have parents who believed him. They immediately notified the police.
“I had my folks to back me up, thank goodness,” he said. “How many kids don’t have that?”
Darren’s father took him down to police headquarters for a lie detector. Darren said his father had his back all the way, psyching him up as the detectives hooked him up to the machine. The boy was scared to death. During the questioning, Darren was asked if Salisbury ejaculated. He had to ask what that meant.
He remembered the lead detective as an imposing figure — but he also believed Darren.
“This guy was a great cop,” Darren said. “He said, ‘I’m going to get this guy, man.’”
When Salisbury was charged with indecency with a child in May 1978, no one from the archdiocese, TSU or Salisbury’s religious order, the Josephites, did anything to warn parents or reach out to other possible victims.
Instead, four months after Salisbury’s arrest, he delivered lectures on “Parent-Teenager Communications” and “Coping With Tension” at a church in La Marque, according to a Galveston Daily News article announcing the lectures.
At a court hearing, Darren was too scared to take the stand. He broke down. He was barely able to look at Salisbury, who, he recalled, was sitting still, staring down at his shoes. “I would love to see him in a courtroom now,” Darren said. “I would just let him have it.”
Salisbury pleaded no contest, received probation and was shuttled off to a parish in Washington, D.C.
His past caught up with him in 2010, after he was appointed to a position on the housing authority board in Bar Harbor, Maine. A member of another advocacy group for victims of priests asked then-sheriff Bill Clark to look into Salisbury’s background. Local media reported that Clark wrote the advocate a letter outlining Salisbury’s criminal record, which included convictions in Houston and Washington, D.C.
The Press was unable to obtain a copy of the letter, and it appears that the conviction in Washington, D.C. may have been expunged, because there is no record of it in D.C. Superior Court. Although the Metropolitan Police Department has an offense number related to Salisbury’s arrest report, a department spokesman said that files are destroyed after 12 years.
The media reported that both the Josephites and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, Maine, released public statements in 2004 disclosing Salisbury’s criminal record. The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston has never released a statement, and it’s unclear if Salisbury is on the list of credibly accused priests.
Speaking with the Press in November, Salisbury didn’t understand why he was being asked about his crimes, since they were so long ago. When asked at what point people should stop asking questions, he said, “When the case was over and it was settled.”
Before hanging up, he made it clear that he was sorry for even talking in the first place, saying, “It was a mistake, because I thought you actually had something positive you were after.”
Darren said he can’t blame every bad thing that’s happened in his life on Salisbury. It may not have ruined his life, but it changed it. Salisbury came into his life when he was 13 and trying to forge his own identity. About ten years ago, he talked to a lawyer friend about possibly suing Salisbury, but the lawyer said he wouldn’t have a shot. Too much time had passed. And besides, the old man was probably dead.
But the priest still remains there, in the back of his mind.
“That’s something, just…” Darren said, searching for the words, “…you cannot forget.”
Priests with drug or sexual problems get sent away to treatment centers for course corrections.
Since at least 1947, when a religious community called the Servants of the Paraclete opened one of the first treatment centers for priests grappling with pedophilia and substance abuse, dioceses have often warehoused problematic priests.
The “rehab” facility closest to Houston is Splendora’s Shalom Center, whose website states, “We genuinely seek to create a spirit of Gospel compassion, a nonjudgmental atmosphere and a safe environment where healing and growth can happen.”
The Shalom Center is included in a 1995 U.S. Conference of Bishops survey on treatment centers, in which it’s described as dealing mostly with priests suffering from “behaviors related to pornography, sexual exploitation, exhibitionism, voyeurism, and prostitution.” The survey, available on the Bishop Accountability website, notes that initial assessments and referrals are available for priests dealing with “pedophilia and ephebophilia [sexual attraction to adolescents].”
In the survey’s anonymous comments section, where diocesan officials can share their thoughts, one official wrote that Shalom is “sometimes too eager to ‘excuse’ priest offender[s]”
More severe cases, such as that of the Reverend Donald Leroy Stavinoha, are usually sent to facilities in New Mexico and Missouri.
On a May night in 1986, Stavinoha stopped by the home of a parishioner, a single mother whose young son he’d taken a special interest in, according to court records. For two years (beginning when the boy was seven), “Father Don” would stop by the home, which was within walking distance of Immaculate Heart of Mary in the East End, sometimes bringing San Juan candles. Once he performed a blessing of the house.
But on that night, Stavinoha told the nine-year-old boy’s mother that he was taking the boy “to play video games.”
Instead, Stavinoha went to 7-11, where he bought a Slurpee for the boy and a six-pack of beer for himself.
Later that night, while patrolling Glenbrook Park in southeast Houston, police officer Gerardo Gamez spotted what appeared to be an abandoned church van in the parking lot. But when Gamez approached the van and shined his flashlight in the window, he “observed [Stavinoha] holding the young boy’s penis with both hands and sucking on the same with his mouth.”
Gamez would later say that Stavinoha identified himself as a priest right away. The officer didn’t recognize Stavinoha at first, but later, according to the Houston Chronicle, it clicked: Gamez attended the same church; his two boys were in Stavinoha’s catechism class.
After ordering Stavinoha out of the van, Gamez called for backup — not so much as protection for himself but for his suspect.
“I was afraid I’d tear into him, beat him, and I didn’t want to ruin the case,” Gamez told the Chronicle.
Another officer testified that Stavinoha laughed as he was being booked into jail.
“I asked him what he was laughing about,” Alphonso Amato Jr. said, according to the Chronicle. “He told me, ‘They won’t do anything to me. I’m a priest.’”
Stavinoha pleaded guilty to a charge of aggravated sexual assault. Court records show that the boy told investigators that Stavinoha had abused him five or six times. Records also state that Stavinoha was “also a suspect in sexual assaults of other children in the area.”
There is no record of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston’s reaching out to other potential victims. But Fiorenza had an easy out: Stavinoha was technically on loan from a mission of the Oblates order in San Antonio.
While awaiting a trial for sentencing, Stavinoha was sent to the Paracletes’ pedophile rehab center in Jemez Springs, New Mexico.
At trial, one of the facility’s psychologists testified that Stavinoha was not sexually attracted to children, and that “he would really like to be asexual.”
The psychologist testified that Stavinoha was “a very shy, very timid individual” who lived with a constant fear that he just wasn’t “holy enough.” The priest had such “a sense of inadequacy gnawing in his gut” that he sometimes suffered painful ulcers. Ultimately, the psychologist said, Stavinoha was still fit to be a priest.
In 1988, Stavinoha was sentenced to ten years in prison, but was released after 14 months. He lived for a while at the Oblates mission before he was transferred to another pedophile center located on hundreds of tranquil, woodsy acres outside St. Louis, alternately known as RECON and Wounded Brothers. He died in 2007.
The victim’s mother sued the archdiocese and the Oblates in Bexar County in 1991. The case was settled confidentially.
Stavinoha appealed his sentencing, arguing that prosecutor Jim Buchanan should not have been allowed to repeatedly call Stavinoha a wolf in sheep’s clothing while addressing the jury.
At trial, Stavinoha’s defense attorney, Ed Mallett, had made a similar argument, objecting several times to the prosecutor’s “comparing the defendant with animals.”
After the judge overruled Mallett, Buchanan let his frustration be known, saying, “I object to his objection.”
The appellate court sided with the trial judge, first by reiterating that Stavinoha was caught in the back of a church van with a nine-year-old boy’s penis in his mouth.
“A reasonable inference from the evidence,” the court ruled, “is that [Stavinoha], taking advantage of his church-given stature, befriended the [boy] and his family for the sole purpose of obtaining sexual gratification.”