Suspended Priest Hit with Lawsuit — Former Altar Boy Claims Counseling LED to Abuse

By Lawrence Buser
Commercial Appeal
September 9, 2005

A former altar boy has filed suit against the Catholic priest who counseled him in the 1970s, claiming the counseling sessions were followed by sexual abuse at a drive-in.

The Circuit Court suit says Rev. Paul W. St. Charles, who was suspended last year because of similar allegations, "shattered the natural human trust inherent in a child's relationship with his priest and counselor."

The suit also names Bishop Terry Steib and the Catholic Diocese of Memphis as defendants.

A diocese spokesman said Thursday he has not yet seen the suit.

"The diocese is always working for the safety of the children," said Father John Geaney, communications adviser for the diocese. "We are doing the best we can to ascertain who the victims are and have them come forward when they feel as though this has taken place in their lives. We also offer the victims spiritual and psychological counseling to a degree they feel that's necessary."

At least three other suits alleging sexual abuse by priests have been filed in the past year against the Memphis diocese.

In the most recent case, the plaintiff was 13 when he sought the help of St. Charles at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in Frayser and was molested by the priest who had encouraged him to join the Catholic Youth Organization and become an altar boy, according to the suit filed by attorney B. J. Wade.

The suit also alleges that St. Charles had a history of sexual abuse that was documented in a secret diocese file and that he was moved beyond local jurisdiction to avoid prosecution and scandal.

The suit says newspaper articles about similar suits against priests last year revived his memories of the abuse, which has caused long-term psychological damage and has required ongoing therapy. The suit asks for unspecified damages.

St. Charles, who retired in 1986 and now lives in Nashville, was suspended from his priestly ministry last year by Steib after a diocesan review board concluded allegations of child sexual abuse in another case were "more likely than not" to be true.

The suspension bans him from saying mass, wearing clerical garments or presenting himself as a priest.


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