Marist Society Asks Court to Keep Lawyer Silent in Abuse Case

By Larry Ault
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
December 30, 1993

The Marist Society of Washington, D.C., wants a Little Rock attorney to be restricted from making public statements pending the outcome of a lawsuit by a woman who won a $ 1.5 million sexual abuse judgment against a priest.

A request for what amounts to a "gag order" by U.S. District Judge George Howard Jr. that would prevent Morgan E. "Chip" Welch of Little Rock from discussing the woman's case was filed Wednesday in the lawsuit by Welch seeking to collect the judgment.

The 23-year-old Birmingham, Ala., woman has been unable to collect the judgment awarded to her Nov. 1 by a federal jury in Little Rock because the priest took a vow of poverty and is unable to pay.

The society is one of several Roman Catholic educational and//or missionary societies founded in the 19th century. The society, which in return for the priest's vow of poverty assumed responsibility for his debts and hired his lawyers, has refused to pay because the jury found it blameless.

The suit alleges the Marist Society has legal obligation to pay the damages on behalf of the Rev. Timothy Sugrue, currently the business manager at the order's Washington office.

Welch said court records show that the Marist Society has a multimillion-dollar balance sheet.

Sugrue admitted he sexually abused the woman when she was 8 years old, between 1977 and 1978. The abuse occurred at Eaker Air Force Base at Blytheville where Sugrue was a chaplain and the woman's father was an officer.

Paul McNeill, a Jonesboro lawyer who represents the Marist Society, said in a motion to silence Welch that no financial information was introduced to the jury.

After the verdict, Welch "revealed certain financial information to the press in the form of statements or press releases," McNeill said.

McNeill, who also filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, asked Howard to "prohibit excessive pretrial publicity" and press releases and statements by Welch while the lawsuit is pending.

"Ever since the trial of that case, information regarding the financial condition of the defendant (the Marist Society) has appeared in several newspaper articles as part of quotes" made by Welch, McNeill said.

Welch said he considered the church's response to the lawsuit predictable. Welch said he doubted Howard would tell him that he could not talk to the press.

"I ain't going to forget about it," Welch said of the allegations against the priest.

"I think everything that was discussed in the previous trial was a matter of public record," Welch said. He said the attempt to silence him was an effort by the Marist Society to make everyone stop talking about the issue of priests molesting children.

"They wish everyone would forget about this case," Welch said. Welch said he expected Howard would hear the lawsuit.

McNeill said Howard shouldn't consider the case because there are no Marist priests in Arkansas soliciting funds for the church and Sugrue was assigned to Arkansas "because the military services assigned him to Arkansas."

"Historically, they have paid the just debts they wanted to pay," Welch said, explaining "this is just one way the priests are trying to grapple with over 1,000 cases" of sexual molestation, he said.


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