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  Jesuit Leader's Exit Was Sudden
Abuse Allegation a First for Former School Chief, Current President Says

By Brooks Egerton
Dallas Morning News
April 17, 2002

The former Jesuit College Preparatory School president accused of sexual abuse left his post suddenly and inexplicably more than 20 years ago, according to people who were associated with the prominent Catholic institution at the time.

An unidentified ex-student recently told Jesuit Prep's principal that the Rev. Thomas Naughton molested him in 1978, when the accuser was a sophomore. That was the first misconduct complaint of any type ever made against the priest, said the Rev. Philip Postell, the North Dallas boys school's current president.

A priest investigating the matter for the Jesuit order said only that it was the first allegation "of any sexual misconduct with a minor." The Rev. Tom Stahel said Tuesday that "it was not, in our view, a frivolous allegation." He declined to comment further.

Father Naughton, 68, has not publicly responded to the accusation, which led to his removal earlier this month from a parish in suburban Los Angeles. He did not return a message seeking comment that was left at the order's regional headquarters in New Orleans, to which he has been summoned.

Father Postell said neither he nor other current staff members at Jesuit remembered the accuser, whose allegations he would not detail. He said the man had made no requests of - or legal claims against - the school.

Father Naughton left in 1979 after serving as Jesuit Prep's president for six years, Father Postell said. That was a typical term of service, he said.

But a former Jesuit Prep board member, James M. Moroney Jr., said that the priest "left in a hurry. I didn't know why." Others associated with the school at the time concurred.

Mr. Moroney, a retired publisher of The Dallas Morning News and chief executive officer of its parent company, Belo, said he had left the school's board by 1979 but remained in touch with its leaders. Father Naughton, he said, "was a very affable guy. Everybody liked him."

Bronson Havard, editor of the Catholic Diocese of Dallas' newspaper, said his files showed no stories on Father Naughton's departure.

Jesuit Prep recently notified the diocese of the allegations against Father Naughton, Mr. Havard said. "We didn't do anything but file it," he said, "because we have no jurisdiction."

Jesuits working in Jesuit institutions are supervised by the order's office in New Orleans, which has suspended Father Naughton's priestly powers.

He is at least the 10th priest who worked in the Dallas Diocese to be accused of molestation and one of hundreds nationwide. He worked in Jesuit schools for years before coming to Dallas in 1973; after leaving, he worked at Jesuit retreat centers, including one in Denton County, before going to the Southern California parish in the mid-1990s.

Mr. Havard, who is also the Dallas bishop's spokesman, said the diocese conducts criminal background checks on members of religious orders who are assigned to diocesan posts. It does not, however, check on priests who work in a ministry of their religious order.

"We have no authority to do that under canon law or civil law," Mr. Havard said. "It's the responsibility of the religious orders to do the checks."

He said the diocese doesn't police the religious orders to see whether they have such programs. Father Postell said Jesuit Prep's employees, himself included, undergo criminal background checks and fingerprinting.

Father Postell said no one had alleged sexual misconduct by anyone under his supervision during his 10 years at Jesuit Prep.

"Nothing in my tenure," he said.

 
 

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