Priest Kept Working after Child Abuse Prosecutions
Cleric Pleaded Guilty, No Contest in 2 Cases; He Calls Charges 'Incorrect'
By Brooks Egerton
Dallas Morning News
May 4, 2002
In the annals of clergy sexual abuse, the Rev. Norman Rogge is a familiar character. He has been accused of groping a young teen at a movie, of fondling others during swimming lessons, of exposing himself to an 11-year-old boy on a weekend trip and soliciting oral sex.
What makes the 77-year-old former Dallas priest unusual is that he has been criminally prosecuted twice for child molestation. He pleaded guilty the first time and no contest the second.
And - as some Catholic leaders are calling for a "one-strike" abuse policy and priests are being removed from ministry almost daily - Father Rogge remains in good standing, working at a Jesuit retirement home in New Orleans.
All the charges against him were "incorrect," he said Friday, declining to elaborate.
Dallas lawyer Sylvia Demarest, who has represented victims of priests and has cataloged an estimated 1,000 clergymen who've been publicly accused of sexual abuse, said she knows of a few who've kept working after one criminal case. Father Rogge may well be alone in surviving two, she said.
"I've never heard anything like that before," said the Rev. Thomas Doyle, who once served in the Vatican Embassy in Washington and has helped hundreds of priests' victims press claims against the church. "That's the ultimate. To lay yourselves open to that kind of liability is incredible."
Dallas Coadjutor Bishop Joseph Galante, spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' committee on sexual abuse, sighed Friday when told about the situation. He said that when the bishops gather here next month for a historic session on this subject, he'll advocate a national policy banning public ministry by any priest credibly accused of abuse.
"I believe very strongly in one strike and you're out," Bishop Galante said. "The focus has to be on the victims."
Ms. Demarest, part of the legal team that won a record judgment in 1997 against the Dallas diocese for covering up abuse by the Rev. Rudy Kos, says Father Rogge is "an example of why the system will not change."
If the priest is unique in terms of his criminal record, he is hardly the only one still being allowed to function after allegations of abuse. One example with local ties is Brother Claude Ory, who was fired from Jesuit College Preparatory School in 1994 after repeated accusations of sexual misconduct and is now minister of a residence hall at a Baltimore college.
The Dallas Diocese, which is being hailed by U.S. bishops for its post-Kos reforms, lets the Rev. Richard T. Brown function "as a hermit at a New York monastery," diocesan spokesman Bronson Havard said. He stressed that only one person accused Father Brown, a woman who was in her early teens two decades ago.
The Dallas Diocese never supervised Brother Ory or Father Rogge, who report to superiors in the Jesuit order. They are among at least five priests or brothers accused of sexual abuse who have worked for Jesuit Prep; at least nine more diocesan priests have been accused over the last half-century, out of hundreds who've served.
Until a reporter started asking questions earlier this spring, Father Rogge worked at a church in southern Louisiana and at St. Charles College, a spirituality center for novices in the Jesuit order. Officials of the Lafayette Diocese forced him out, saying that the Jesuits had not disclosed his record or even his presence in the area.
The Rev. Tom Stahel, a regional spokesman for the religious order, would not respond to this statement or most questions The Dallas Morning News asked about Father Rogge. He did say that the Jesuits had received no allegations of sexual misconduct against the priest since he started work at the rural church in the late 1980s.
Robert Swart, who says Father Rogge molested him in the early 1960s, criticized both the Jesuits and the Lafayette diocese. He recently e-mailed Lafayette Bishop Edward O'Donnell to ask why the priest had been allowed to have a church there and got this response: "As a matter of fact, he has never had one."
But Father Stahel confirmed that Father Rogge had long served part-time at Christ the King Church near Opelousas. He said the initial plan had been for him to do household work full-time at nearby St. Charles College, but then the realities of the priest shortage hit - "the need to serve the people," as Father Stahel put it in a one-paragraph statement.
"Every time they lie and throw this crap around again, it feels like abuse all over again," Mr. Swart said in an interview. He signed his missive to Bishop O'Donnell "a recovering Catholic."
Father Rogge said he worked at Jesuit Prep in Dallas for two years around 1959 and did not get in trouble before leaving. His short stint here was one of the first in a 46-year career as a priest that has taken him across the United States - from Kansas, Connecticut and Texas to Florida, Alabama, California and finally Louisiana.
Father Stahel would not say why Father Rogge left the elite boys school, whose yearbooks describe him as secretary-treasurer.
By the early 1960s, Father Rogge was assistant pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Tampa, Fla., chaplain at a Catholic high school and counselor at the local juvenile-detention home. Mr. Swart, who has received therapy funded by a Jesuit religious and literary education society, says the priest fondled him repeatedly in 1963 under the guise of having his genitals checked for signs of "damage." No complaint was made to police.
In 1967, Father Rogge pleaded guilty to contributing to the delinquency of a minor for groping a 14-year-old from the juvenile home at a Tarzan movie. Other residents of the home told investigators of inappropriate touching during nude swimming lessons near a lake cottage that the priest had.
No further charges were filed, however, and Father Rogge was sentenced to three years of probation and ordered to get psychiatric treatment. A Tampa police report says Father Rogge admitted to the one charge, blaming a "momentary compulsive action." He also admitted soliciting oral sex from a boy, according to the report.
Father Rogge stayed at the Tampa church until about 1980, when he was reassigned to Mobile, Ala. In 1982, according to The Official Catholic Directory, he was at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, Calif. By the mid-1980s, he was at a church in the northwestern Louisiana town of Montgomery.
In the summer of 1984, Father Rogge returned to Tampa for a visit and drove to a country cabin with two adult friends. A Citrus County sheriff's report says the three men, all associated with an organization formed to search for missing children, took along the 11-year-old son of one of the group's founders.
The three men spent the next two days nude, masturbated in front of the boy and gave him beer, the report said. Father Rogge ultimately pleaded no contest in 1985 to a single lewdness charge.
He said Friday that he did not know then what his plea meant, but a 1985 Tampa Tribune story says a judge asked him "a variety of questions ... to assure that Rogge understood the ramifications."
The judge sentenced him to probation and confinement for several months at a Catholic treatment facility in New Mexico. In this case and in the one from 1967, he received deferred adjudication, meaning that he had no criminal record after his probation.
Before his 1985 plea, Father Rogge had told a Tribune reporter that the men were nude at the cabin "because it was so hot" and that "nothing of any immorality took place." Yet one of the priest's friends, a previously convicted child molester named Michael Betancourt, also pleaded no contest to threatening the boy's life.
According to the sheriff's report, Mr. Betancourt "got a pruning saw out of his truck and placed it against his neck. He then told the victim if he told anyone, he would kill him."
There is no indication that Father Rogge worked as a priest again until the late 1980s, when he began work in southern Louisiana at the college and the parish.
Father Rogge "has left a trail of tears for 40 years," Mr. Swart's recent e-mail to Lafayette's Bishop O'Donnell declared. "Enough is enough."
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