Old Abuse Allegations Cost Pastor His Job
N.O. Superior Learns of 1986 Texas Cases
By Gordon Russell
The Times-Picayune [New Orleans, LA]
May 6, 2002
The pastor of a venerable Mid-City church was dismissed from the Archdiocese of New Orleans last week after church officials learned he had been accused of sexually abusing two minors more than a decade and a half ago in Austin, Texas.
Archbishop Alfred Hughes learned April 29 of the allegations involving the Rev. C. Richard Nowery, pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church at the corner of Canal and South Lopez streets. That day, Hughes revoked Nowery's priestly faculties and relieved him of his duties as pastor, said the Rev. William Maestri, an archdiocesan spokesman.
Hughes' action was not made public until Sunday, Maestri said, because church officials wanted the church's parishioners "to hear it from the provincial rather than read about it in the paper or hear it on TV."
Nowery is the third Catholic priest working in the New Orleans area to be relieved of his duties after decades-old accusations of sexual abuse resurfaced.
Last month Hughes suspended the Rev. Charles G. Coyle, a local Jesuit priest who was accused of having sex with a student in the Boston area in the early 1970s. And last week Hughes suspended the Rev. Joseph F. Pellettieri, who runs the archdiocese's Ave Maria Retreat House in Crown Point, over an allegation that Pellettieri had abused a minor in the Lafayette area in 1967.
Nowery, a priest of the Holy Cross order, was accused in 1986 of sexually abusing two children in Austin, one that year and one five years earlier. Both allegations surfaced at the same time, Maestri said.
On orders from the Diocese of Austin, Nowery received medical treatment in 1986 and "was deemed fit for the ministry by the professionals," Maestri said.
For the next eight years, Nowery worked for the Southern Province of the Congregation of Holy Cross. His duties there involved recruiting and guiding new members of the order -- tasks that would have limited his contact with children, said the Rev. John Korcsmar, the top official at the Southern Province.
"He was always closely supervised," Korcsmar said. "There were always others around, just in case."
Korcsmar said those who treated Nowery did not consider him a threat after he received treatment.
"As far as I can tell, their advice was correct," Korcsmar said. "There were not any hints of any impropriety."
The New Orleans Archdiocese was unaware of the allegations against Nowery when he came here in 1994 to become associate pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church, Maestri said. No complaints have been filed against Nowery since then, Maestri said. Nowery became the church's pastor in 1995.
The incidents came to light after Hughes in February ordered a review of the files of every priest working in the archdiocese to see whether any contained allegations of sexual abuse. The review is continuing.
"The archbishop wants to make sure children are not placed at risk," Maestri said. "If there's even a chance something like this might happen, we want to be very cautious and prudent in these matters."
Asked whether any priest who had faced a credible accusation of sexual misconduct in the past would be suspended, Maestri said: "That is our practice at this time."
Nowery has not been removed from the priesthood, Maestri said, although he is barred in New Orleans from performing official priestly functions, such as baptisms. However, he could theoretically serve another diocese or return to serving his order in an administrative capacity, Maestri said.
Korcsmar said Nowery has left New Orleans but did not say where he went.
"I think he's disappointed in terms of how this has come about, particularly the things being made public," Korcsmar said. "He tried to make amends, he did therapy, he did try to take steps and not do anything (improper) again. It would appear that he hasn't."
During his eight years at Sacred Heart of Jesus, Nowery was credited with dreaming up the Malta Square project, a cluster of three once-disused but historic buildings near the church that were renovated into an apartment complex for seniors.
He also helped organize an interfaith concert last year to celebrate Louis Armstrong's 100th birthday. Armstrong was baptized in 1901 at the church, which dates to the 1880s.
With a congregation of about 700 families, the church is one of the city's most diverse, with a large proportion of Hispanic and African-American families as well as a few Vietnamese worshippers.
Maestri said a permanent replacement for Nowery has not been selected.
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