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  Another O.C. Priest Is Accused // Church - the Rev. Thomas J. Naughton, 68, Goes on Leave after a Charge of Abusing a Child More Than Two Decades Ago Surfaces

By Bill Rams and Valeria Godines
Orange County Register
April 15, 2002

MISSION VIEJO

A Jesuit priest has been placed on leave while church officials investigate an allegation that he molested a student at a Texas high school where he was president more than two decades ago.

At the end of the 10:30 a.m. Mass at St. Kilian Church on Sunday, parishioners were told that the Rev. Thomas J. Naughton, 68, had agreed to be placed on temporary leave.

One woman gasped. Another started to cry.

Others started whispering after hearing about allegations of sexual abuse in 1978.

"This is not a proven fact," cautioned the parish priest, the Rev. James Dunning, as he addressed members of his 4,000-strong congregation. "No judgment should be made against Father Naughton at this time. ... Please pray for all of those affected by this."

Naughton couldn't be reached for comment.

He was relieved of his duties April 5 after Diocese of Orange officials were informed of the accusation.

The officials declined to describe the allegation or say if the alleged victim was a boy or a girl.

But the Rev. Philip Postell, president of Jesuit College Preparatory School in Dallas, said a man appeared at the high school earlier this month to make the complaint.

Postell said he doesn't know many specifics but said "my impression is it was a student in his earlier years, a freshman or a sophomore. It seemed to me that it was a one-time (incident)."

Naughton was president of the school from 1973 to 1978, Postell said, and has also served in parishes in New Orleans and St. Louis.

He is the third Orange County priest removed from a parish in the past year because of allegations of sexual misconduct with a child.

Parishes across the country are grappling with a growing scandal involving priests and accusations of sexual abuse of children.

In his sermon Sunday, the Rev. Pat Fee of St. Kilian said some Catholics are leaving the church because they are disgusted. He urged them to keep the faith.

"I predict the church will be christened, it will be purified, and it will be better," he said.

Later, Fee described his colleague Naughton as a terrific priest. "People love Father Naughton here, including me," he said.

Diocese of Orange spokeswoman Maria Schinderle said the church's zero-tolerance policy required that Naughton be placed on leave.

Parishioners said Naughton has moved back to the Jesuit Provincial in New Orleans while Jesuit authorities there investigate. It is unclear if the case has been forwarded to police.

Naughton was described as a gifted orator who made biblical verses clear through crisp comparisons to daily life.

"It's very rare that after a homily that people would applaud," said Joe Bolich, 69, a friend. "He will be sorely missed by the entire community."

Tom Drennen remembers the touching eulogy Naughton gave for his own mother, who died last year. Parishioners said Naughton moved to Orange County about four years ago to help his brother, a lawyer, care for her.

"We'll be in New Orleans later this year," Drennen said. "I plan to pay him a visit."

Parishioners also said it's time for the news media to carefully weigh allegations before publishing or broadcasting them.

"It puts all young priests in a terrible position," said Patricia Drennen, a St. Kilian parishioner whose son is a priest in Los Angeles. "My son doesn't hug anybody anymore. He won't even put his hand out unless they put it out first."

 
 

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