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  Diocese Accused of Covering up Sex Abuse Allegations
Church Lawyer Denies Coverup Allegations

By Todd J. Gillman
Dallas Morning News
August 5, 1994

Court records filed Thursday detail allegations that Roman Catholic officials in Dallas repeatedly failed to protect young parishioners, despite mounting evidence of sexual abuse by priests.

Allegations in lawsuits now involve three priests and what could be dozens of young victims in the Dallas diocese during the past 15 years.

Church officials deny that the diocese tried to cover up sexual abuse by clergy, transferred priests and ignored or bullied victims when accusations surfaced, as alleged in court papers.

In a deposition and medical records filed with one case, former priest Robert J. Peebles Jr. now admits molesting between seven and 20 boys during five church assignments from 1979 to 1986.

At least two of his transfers came after superiors within the church learned that he had abused boys, according to Mr. Peebles' deposition and other documents filed Thursday by plaintiffs.

The latest suit levels sex abuse allegations against the Rev. William J. Hughes, who worked at All Saints Catholic Church in Far North Dallas. In the early 1980s at All Saints, he worked alongside Father Peebles and the Rev. Rudolph Kos, who both face sex allegations from earlier lawsuits.

"There is a pattern and practice that indicates a coverup," said Sylvia Demarest, the attorney for several plaintiffs who have sued over alleged sexual abuse by Dallas-area priests.

"And the motive is they don't want this to become public in the Dallas diocese, and they don't want a bunch of victims' claims."

Attorney Randal Mathis, who represents the Dallas diocese, said the church will prove that it responded appropriately whenever it learned of sexual abuse accusations. He declined to discuss specific allegations contained in court records filed Thursday because he hadn't seen them yet.

Bishop Thomas Tschoepe, who retired in 1990 after 21 years as leader of the Dallas diocese, denied Thursday that any church official ever covered up any sexual abuse.

Asked whether sexual abuse occurred, he said: "A little bit.

It's all blown out of proportion."

None of the three men accused could be reached for comment.

Father Peebles was formally "laicized" in 1989 after being forced to resign as a priest. Father Kos has been forbidden to perform any priestly duties. Father Hughes is still on the rolls of the Dallas diocese.

Sex abuse allegations have rocked countless dioceses, forcing some to the brink of bankruptcy.

In December, Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe, N.M., asked parishes in his diocese to help pay up to $ 50 million to settle sexual abuse lawsuits against priests.

In Dallas, two former altar boys at All Saints filed lawsuits last September accusing Fathers Kos and Peebles of sexually abusing them a decade ago.

The diocese has asked a judge to throw out the case against Father Peebles, arguing that the plaintiff, known as John Doe, waited too long past his 18th birthday to be entitled to sue.

Eight other John Does have accused Father Kos of abusing them as boys while serving at various churches in the Dallas diocese.

In the new lawsuit against Father Hughes, a girl named only as Jane Doe accuses him of sexually abusing her from spring 1983 to summer 1984, when her parents discovered it and complained to church authorities.

The diocese persuaded the parents "to keep this abuse secret," the lawsuit says.

The Hughes lawsuit also accuses Dallas child psychologist Ray McNamara, to whom church officials referred Jane Doe for counseling, of failing to disclose that the church had hired him to counsel a number of priests accused of sex abuse.

The lawsuit against Father Peebles also accuses Dr. McNamara of keeping secret his apparent conflict of interest. Reached Thursday, he declined to comment.

One lawsuit against Father Peebles - who has since left the priesthood - accuses him of a sexual assault in March 1984 while he was an Army chaplain.

When informed of the suit last year, Mr. Peebles, reached at his home in New Orleans, said: "This is, as you can imagine, a shocker.

I'm a father of a 5-year-old son. . . . I'm happily married."

He denied sexually assaulting anyone or having been accused of doing so before the suit was filed.

However, court records allege that after the 1984 incident, Father Peebles accepted a "less than honorable" discharge to avoid a court martial.

And in transcripts of a deposition he gave May 24, he admitted to having molested at least seven boys through 1986. Psychiatric records show that he has admitted to molesting 15 to 20 boys.

Father Peebles was ordained in 1977.

Court documents show that his first assignment was as an assistant pastor at St. John Nepomucene in Ennis, from June 1977 to July 1979. He spent the next two years at St. Mark the Evangelist in Plano.

Father Peebles later told doctors that he first sexually abused a young boy two years after being ordained and fondled and abused two other boys a year later, records show.

Father Peebles was moved to All Saints Catholic Church in Dallas in May 1981.

He later told military investigators that he sexually molested a youth while at All Saints and after "he was caught in that incident he voluntarily entered psychological counseling." That counseling, according to the lawsuit, was paid for by the Dallas diocese.

At an annual priests' retreat conducted by the Dallas diocese in early 1982, Mr. Peebles confessed to a fellow clergyman, the retreat director, that he had molested two boys.

"I was consumed by guilt," he testified in a deposition in May.

Mr. Peebles recalled that the clergyman told him "not to be overly worried that I'm harming anyone, you know, harming those boys, but that they could bounce back."

A few months later, Mr. Peebles was transferred to Fort Benning, Ga., where he served as an Army chaplain.

In 1984, he invited an altar boy from All Saints to visit him.

Mr. Peebles said that within a few hours of the teen-ager's arrival they were drinking beer inside the clergyman's room. Asked if he took "indecent sexual liberties" with the young boy, Mr. Peebles replied, "That's correct."

That victim fled and told military police that then-Capt.

Peebles had violently assaulted him.

U.S. Army records included in the suit show that Mr. Peebles told military investigators in 1984 that he sexually molested a youth while serving as an assistant pastor at All Saints Church in the early 1980s.

Military investigators also said he admitted sexually abusing the teen who visited him at Fort Benning, the suit says.

The lawsuit claims that over the next few days, church officials in Dallas pressured the plaintiff and his parents not to press criminal charges against Mr. Peebles and to keep the matter secret, assuring them that the incident was isolated.

In return, they said Mr. Peebles would be forced to resign the priesthood, according to the lawsuit.Church officials deny those claims.

But in May 1984, a few months after the Fort Benning incident, church superiors transferred Mr. Peebles back to Dallas and made him assistant pastor at St. Augustine Church.

He was promoted to pastor in June 1985 and held the post until August 1986.

Later that year, Mr. Peebles resigned his position as a priest and entered St. Luke's Institute in Maryland for treatment; the suit alleges that he resigned after further allegations of sexual abuse.

Medical records show that he'd been referred for evaluation "because of admitted sexual involvement with adolescent boys.

Father Peebles says there have been three incidents in the past month."

Ms. Demarest, the plaintiffs' attorney, said the Catholic church never provided counseling for any of the young boys sexually abused by Mr. Peebles.

The church did provide Mr. Peebles with assistance: $ 22,000 toward the costs of attending Tulane University law school from 1986 to 1988, plus an $ 800 monthly stipend for his first two years there.

Mr. Peebles, now an attorney in New Orleans, said the church was only doing the right thing.

"Obviously, I need some treatment," he recalled years later in his deposition. "You can't take somebody in my position and send them out untreated.

"That would be, you know, an offense."

 
 

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