Details Emerge in Abuse Lawsuit
Church's Handling of 1994 Sex Abuse Allegation Illustrated in Documents Filed in Suit against Former Priest
By Steve Myers
June 25, 2005
Documents filed in a lawsuit against a priest who once served at Maxwell Air Force Base near Montgomery provide insight into the handling of a 1994 sex abuse allegation against him, as well as a more recent one involving a boy in New York.
The documents indicate that church officials in New York knew that the Rev. Barry E. Ryan had been accused of molesting a minor while stationed at Maxwell. A monsignor recommended that Ryan undergo therapy, but didn't order him to do so after Ryan said he didn't think he was up to it.
Instead, the church granted his request for a leave of absence from the priesthood, and he moved to Florida, where he became a public high school teacher.
Ryan, 57, remained in Florida until the spring of 2003, when the Mobile Register contacted him and inquired about the sex abuse allegation from a decade ago. Shortly thereafter, the former Teacher of the Year notified his employer that he was taking a medical leave of absence and went back to New York. A church official has said that Ryan has a terminal case of cancer.
While in New York, he abused a 6-year-old boy. He later pleaded guilty to second-degree sexual conduct against a child and is supposed to start serving a sentence next month.
Ryan's name was one of several that came up in 2003 when Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson Jr. asked the Archdiocese of Mobile for information on any priest suspected of sexual misconduct.
The assignment of the British-born priest in Montgomery was apparently the only connection to the Mobile archdiocese.
The parents of the New York victim are suing Ryan, the Diocese of Brooklyn and church officials. The lawsuit does not state a dollar amount of damages sought. In response, the diocese filed the internal memos along with the affidavit of a church official.
The church documents filed in the court case refer to a "victim" and describe Ryan fretting in 2003 over whether he would be tried criminally for what happened in Alabama years before.
They also illustrate how church officials dealt with a priest accused of molestation. Letters indicate that a church official offered his support to Ryan after he was discharged from the military. The church official, Monsignor Otto Garcia, also suggested that Ryan not rule out returning to active ministry after he had received treatment and dealt with his personal problems.
Policies have changed:
Over the last several years, the Roman Catholic Church's practice of dealing with abusive priests — putting them in therapy and moving them to other locations, where they sometimes abused again — has become widely known. The church has since changed some of its policies regarding abusive priests, including reporting allegations to law enforcement.
Church officials knew Ryan "was a pedophile in 1995" but merely allowed him to take a leave of absence, said Melanie Little, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs.
"And they supported his decision to not go to St. Luke's," she said, referring to the St. Luke Institute, a well-known treatment center in Maryland that deals with abusive priests. "They could have attempted to cure him — if you can cure a pedophile — in 1995."
Frank DeRosa, a spokesman for the Diocese of Brooklyn, said he wasn't immediately familiar with exactly how the church dealt with Ryan's case. In general, he said, "we are taking the matter seriously, and we'll respond to it in an appropriate way."
According to the church documents, Ryan was discharged from the military in 1995 after molesting a minor in Alabama the year before. A memo written by Garcia to Bishop Thomas V. Daily recounts Ryan's description of the military's exhaustive investigation, which cost $40,000 and involved searches of his computers.
The investigation, the "lack of support" from the Archdiocese for the Military Services, which supervised Ryan while he was a military chaplain, and legal costs all "have taken a toll on his life," Garcia wrote in the July 1995 memo.
"As a result of this, he does not feel that he is in good psychological condition to undergo residential treatment at St. Luke Institute," Garcia wrote.
He also recounted Ryan's unhappiness with hearing from a lawyer that future employers may be able to obtain records of his treatment at St. Luke. Ryan apparently had been told otherwise by officials at the treatment center.
Sought to take leave:
According to the memo, Ryan asked to be placed on a leave of absence from the church. Garcia recommended that the leave be granted. Ryan would not be allowed to present himself as a priest, but he would be able to celebrate Mass for himself privately.
The next memo was written after the Mobile Register tracked Ryan down in April 2003 in Florida, where he was working at a high school. He contacted his home diocese in New York and asked that the family of the victim in Alabama be notified that he was in poor health.
Garcia wrote: "He (Ryan) asked me if the mother of the victim had been told that he is dying, and I said to him that I believe that she had been informed of his condition. Father Ryan 'pleaded' with me that, if possible, she be informed.
"It was evident to me that Father Ryan is under a lot of pressure. As I recall from his days in the seminary, he has never been the type of person to find solutions to situations which, to others, may be very evident. The pressure that he is under, not only because of the sexual abuse, but also because of his developing illness and foreseen death, is a lot for him."
According to the memo, Ryan was worried about whether he would be prosecuted for his actions in Alabama.
From Florida, according to the church documents and the lawsuit, he went to Long Island, where he molested the 6-year-old boy over a six-month period, including rape and sodomy.
According to another memo Garcia put in Ryan's file, Ryan notified him in November 2003 that he had abused again.
After speaking about his health, Garcia wrote, "he told me that, after attempting suicide a few weeks before, and spending a few days in a hospi tal, he had decided to go to Long Island ... to visit (name redacted) and his family."
While there, Garcia wrote, "he abused (name redacted) who is six years old. He told me that (the victim's father) is aware of it, and that (the father) wanted that the church deal with this internally, and that Father Ryan be isolated from children."
This time, Garcia told Ryan that the incident would have to be reported to the local prosecutor. The memo goes on to describe how Garcia called the victim's family to offer the church's support.
Garcia wrote in that memo that he would try to have Ryan admitted to some kind of treatment facility and would have to be isolated from children.
Back in 1995, Garcia wrote in his memo that he had told Ryan not to "close the door on the possibility of returning to the active priestly ministry."
"I tried to tell Father Ryan that he has a whole life ahead of him, and that in view of the circumstances of his case, he might be one of those situations in which an assignment might very well be possible after he completes residential treatment."
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.