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  Priest Jailed in Sex Case
Clergyman Admits Fondling, Police Say

By Brooks Egerton and Kendall Anderson
Dallas Morning News
May 5, 1999

Dallas police arrested a Roman Catholic priest Tuesday and accused him of indecency with a child, dealing another blow to a diocese that has spent several years and millions of dollars battling similar allegations.

A police report says the Rev. Emeh "Anthony" Nwaogu admitted fondling a 12-year-old girl's breasts and genitals Monday at St. Anthony Catholic Church in South Dallas, where he has been priest-in-charge for 51/2 years.

Father Nwaogu, 53, is jailed at Lew Sterrett Justice Center, where he was under suicide watch Tuesday night. Bail has been set at $50,000.

He is the ninth priest in the Dallas Catholic Diocese to be accused of child sexual abuse in the 1990s but only the second arrested. The other one arrested, Rudolph "Rudy" Kos, is serving a life sentence in state prison; the diocese and its insurers have paid about $31 million to settle claims that church leaders covered up his abuse of 11 boys.

More than $5 million was paid to settle claims involving other priests. And some Kos-related litigation is still pending.

"We can't put this one in the same category of problem," diocesan spokesman Bronson Havard said of Mr. Nwaogu's arrest. "This is almost something that's unpredictable - no signals, no flares up.

"It's not anything we could do anything to prevent."

The 12-year-old church member's mother said her family is doubly upset: Father Nwaogu has been a trusted friend, and her daughter was previously molested by someone else.

"She is going to get some counseling," the mother said. "She was very upset, but I assured her she did the right thing."

According to the police report, the 12-year-old tearfully told her mother Monday night that "Father touched my privates." She went on to tell her mother, who then told police, that the molestation occurred when she was at Father Nwaogu's residence on church property watching a video earlier that evening.

The priest asked the girl if what he was doing "felt good" and when she said no, he told her that he didn't mean to do it, the report says, The girl asked to leave the rectory shortly after Mr. Nwaogu stopped his advances, police say.

Mr. Havard said there are no indications that anyone else has complained of abuse by Father Nwaogu, though police said their investigation is continuing.

The priest was suspended Tuesday, soon after the diocese learned of his arrest from an anonymous phone call, Mr. Havard said. Church officials had not yet had contact with Father Nwaogu and were "trying to minister to all the parties involved," he said.

Diocesan policy, implemented as the Catholic Church worldwide has struggled with pedophilia scandals, tells priests that "you shouldn't be alone with children right now," Mr. Havard said. "It's a caution."

Another reform has been an insistence on thorough documentation of foreign priests' references when they seek to work in the diocese, he said. Mr. Havard said he knew of no reference problems with Father Nwaogu, a Nigerian who came here in 1993 to pursue a doctoral degree in pastoral studies.

Several other foreign priests have been rejected "because they did not have the required referrals," Mr. Havard said. Many U.S. dioceses have begun relying heavily on visiting clergymen from around the world as the shortage of priests has worsened.

Father Nwaogu may not have finished his educational work after being sidetracked by auto-accident injuries and illness, Mr. Havard said.

His church has about 85 members, making it one of the smallest in the nine-county diocese.

James Thibodeaux, a longtime member of the congregation, described Father Nwaogu as intelligent and strict. He said he'd never heard anything to make him think the priest might be a danger to children.

"Nothing like that," Mr. Thibodeaux said.

 
 

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