Dallas Morning News [Dallas TX]
March 30, 2022
By Krista M. Torralva
A lawsuit alleging priests at Jesuit College Preparatory School Dallas sexually abused students there in the late 1970s and early 1980s has settled.
A lawsuit alleging priests at Jesuit College Preparatory School Dallas sexually abused students there in the late 1970s and early 1980s has been settled.
In a letter sent Wednesday to the local Jesuit community, school president Mike Earsing said he believed the accounts told by nine Dallas-area men who brought a lawsuit against the school, the Catholic Diocese of Dallas and the Society of Jesuits’ USA Central and Southern Province, the Catholic religious order that includes Dallas.
“While none of us wanted to believe that any of the priests at our school could inflict such heinous injury, the fact is, a few did,” Earsing wrote.
The men and their lawyers issued a joint statement with the school, the diocese and the order announcing some details of the settlement. Financial compensation for the men will be kept confidential, the lawyers said.
The school agreed to taking steps to prevent further abuse, according to the statement. Those measures include designating a chaplain to field complaints from potential victims and creating an on-campus memorial for victims of sexual abuse by religious leaders.
The memorial will be housed in the chapel, Earsing said.
The school must continue its staff training and screening policies. Staff, students and parents must report suspicious sexual misconduct and the school must promptly alert law enforcement about any reports of sexual abuse of children that it receives, according to the statement.
The school noted such procedures have been in place “for many years” and has not received any credible reports of an adult abusing a minor in more than 35 years.
The Diocese, which is separate from the school, agreed to expand its review board that investigates sex abuse allegations.
The Jesuits order, based in St. Louis, agreed to 16 reforms, although most are already in place, the statement noted. The head of the order, the Rev. Tom Greene, will participate in a full-day retreat with the nine men who brought the lawsuit and a Mass of Atonement in Dallas.
The lawsuit originated in 2019 after dioceses and religious institutions released the names of priests they deemed to be “credibly accused” of having sexually abused children. Publishing names of abusive priests was a way of reckoning with its past and an attempt to restore public trust.
The plaintiffs said the publication of those names prompted them to come forward as they sought healing.
The lawsuit names six total priests. One, Robert Crisp, was a priest with the Diocese of Dallas. The other five were Jesuit priests: Donald Dickerson, a former teacher and administrator who died in 2018, Vincent Malatesta, a teacher and counselor who was removed from the Jesuit Order in 2002 and lives in Georgia; Patrick Koch, a former principal and president of the school who died in 2006; and Benjamin Smylie, a teacher at Jesuit Prep who died in 2004, and Peter Callery, a former teacher and wrestling coach who is still under investigation.
Callery was suspended from practicing as a priest after the lawsuit was filed in 2018. He lives in a Jesuit Society center in St. Louis and is prohibited from ministering while the Society investigates the accusation against him.
Dallas police investigated Malatesta and Callery — the only two accused priests who are still living — but the statute of limitations expired on any possible charges against them, Dallas police said.
Callery has disputed the allegations against him in court documents. His lawyer declined to comment further. Malatesta’s lawyer did not respond to requests for comment.
From the beginning, the school wanted to right the wrongs as much aspossible, lawyers for the plaintiffs and the school said during a joint press conference Wednesday afternoon.
“We wanted to bring these men back into the Jesuit community,” said lawyer Tom Melsheimer.
The school hired Lee Taft, a former civil lawyer who now works as a facilitator for reconciliation in lawsuits. His role is still unconventional in litigation which traditionally pits parties against one another as they fight over potentialsettlements.
Taft will now be the point of contact for victims who wish to report abuse. The job is intended to be similar to the role of a chaplain. He will also report accusations to the school.
Brent Walker, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said he researched thousands of priest sex abuse lawsuits and saw none that included a facilitator to reach agreements that truly felt like reconciliation.Manyothers nationwide went to trial and verdicts were drawn out over appeals or they reached settlements quietly, Walker said.
That was a route the school wanted to avoid, Melsheimer said.
“I hope that the model that we have created here can help similar disputes across the country,” said Charla Aldous, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.
Mike Pedevilla, the first to initiate the lawsuit, said all he really wanted was to be heard.
“Now, finally, I can begin to heal,” he said.
Earsing, the school president, said he met with each of the men. They did not seek vengeance, Earsing wrote, but wanted to ensure the abuse they suffered was not repeated.
The school could have fought the lawsuit and argued the statute of limitations had already expired, Earsing wrote in his letter. But he did not believe that approach would “have been aligned with our school’s values or have achieved reconciliation.”
Want to report abuse to the Catholic Diocese of Dallas? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Krista M. Torralva, Staff writer. Krista Torralva first joined The Dallas Morning News as an intern on the business desk in 2013. She returned to The Morning News in 2021 as a reporter covering primarily Dallas County criminal courts. Krista graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington with a major in journalism and a minor in criminal justice.