Indianapolis Star [Indianapolis, IN]
April 19, 2022
By MJ Slaby
The Carmel priest who was “suspended from public ministry” in March, is suing a man who came forward with allegations about the priest’s behavior.
The priest filed a lawsuit April 4 against the man who wrote two letters in 2021 to the Diocese of Lafayette-in-Indiana about De Oreo’s behavior toward him when he was a teen attending St. Alphonsus Liguori Catholic Church in Zionsville. IndyStar is not naming the man because he was a minor at the time of the alleged abuse.
The man said he was considering becoming a priest, and De Oreo used his position of power to emotionally abuse, sexually harass and groom him for sexual abuse. This led to an eating disorder and PTSD as well as “extreme emotional distress” from acts that his lawyer said were intentional and preventable.
In the lawsuit, De Oreo disputes the man’s claims and said there was no “intentional infliction of emotional distress.” He said the man’s allegations could lead to “irreparable harm” that would prevent him from participating in parish ministry and doing his job.
Diocese spokesperson Gabby Hlavek confirmed the diocese is aware of the De Oreo’s lawsuit but didn’t comment further.
Attempts at an agreement
Based on court documents, the man, the diocese and their respective lawyers were having conversations about how the diocese would handle the allegations outside of the courtroom.
Those communications were confidential and “unfortunately” attached in the lawsuit, said Amina Thomas, the man’s attorney.
Included were a proposed “agreement of care” from the diocese that was “not an admission of legal liability.”
There also was a letter from Thomas in response to the diocese lawyer’s request to try for a resolution before the man “moves forward with pursing his claims through litigation.” That letter called the diocese negligent in following its own policies and asked for a $295,000 settlement.
De Oreo’s lawsuit claims he was unaware of the details about the allegations against him until after his suspension and the settlement request.
He then filed a lawsuit denying the man’s claims and argued that if the diocese participates in any settlement that involved him, he will be uninsurable and his reputation damaged.
Thomas said the lawsuit has “a number of misstatements,” and she and her client plan to challenge the allegations in court. She said that in her experience representing survivors of sexual assault and childhood sexual abuse, the accused suing the alleged victim is “unusual.”
Lawyers for De Oreo didn’t respond to messages from IndyStar.
Priest suspended in March 2022
De Oreo was ordained as a priest in 2018, according to a newsletter serving the diocese. He then joined St. Alphonsus Liguori in Zionsville before later moving to Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
Bishop of the Diocese of Lafayette-in-Indiana Timothy Doherty announced De Oreo’s suspension to the Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish during mass on March 13. Doherty didn’t provide specific details about the allegations or if there were previous investigations into De Oreo’s conduct, but he confirmed an investigation was ongoing.
When asked about the status of the investigation, Hlavek said “the diocese cannot discuss pending litigation; instead, we ask that you please join us in prayer for all those that are affected.”
Teen felt ‘incredibly uncomfortable and unsafe’
In the letters to the diocese, the man describes several incidents that happened in 2018 and 2019 while he was a high schooler and part of youth ministry programs at St. Alphonsus Liguori.
After counseling, he said he has “come to terms with aspects of the abuse that I had previously been unable to; namely sexual harassment and grooming on the part of Fr. DeOreo.”
The man wrote “at no point was there any sexual contact; it was all through verbal communication and innuendo.” He stated De Oreo didn’t make requests or demands of a sexual nature.
The first letter, from January 2021, includes De Oreo urging the teen to participate in a program that included periods of fasting, and the priest would single him out and “publicly ridiculed” him in front of his peers calling him weak when he wouldn’t fast.
The man wrote the fasting “quickly spiraled into a vicious eating disorder,” and he would feel guilty about eating too much, saying “I believed the only way I could love God was by doing this.”
The second letter was in October 2021, and the man wrote about three events that “stand out and have deeply troubled me.”
He described being at De Oreo’s residence with others and the priest encouraged him to look at a painting of the Virgin Mary that was in his bedroom. While De Oreo was not in the room, the man wrote he was still “deeply uncomfortable.”
He also wrote that during a visit to De Oreo’s office, the priest said without context: “I’m feeling really tempted right now.” And in a third instance, the man said others were around when the priest told him a vulgar joke about gay men prompting the teen to feel “incredibly uncomfortable and unsafe.”
De Oreo responds to allegations
In his lawsuit, De Oreo said he never made comments that “were intended or could have reasonably been constructed as sexual in nature,” didn’t attempt to groom the teen and didn’t violate Diocesan codes of conduct, including that he was never in “a closed, unobservable room” with the teen.
De Oreo’s lawsuit also claims the diocese investigated the allegations in each letter and found no evidence to substantiate them.
The priest wrote the man was “apparently unsatisfied with the Diocese’s determination” after the allegations about fasting, so he wrote the second letter. De Oreo’s lawsuit doesn’t superficially address the man’s claims about being “publicly ridiculed” for not fasting, but does say the priest never “knowingly or intentionally caused discomfort or distress.”
Per the lawsuit, De Oreo disagreed with much of the man’s recounting about the painting, but said he did “recall encouraging a group of youths, including (the teen), to look at the painting while (De Oreo) remained in the living room.”
As for the other two instances — in De Oreo’s office and the joke — the priest denied the scenarios happened.
De Oreo also addresses the fasting program in the lawsuit, saying that he didn’t create the program or introduce the practice of fasting. He added that he had “no involvement with (the teen’s) food preparation, most mealtimes or parental supervision.”
On April 14, the lawyers on both sides of this case requested that it be moved from a Hamilton County court, where it was filed, to a Boone County court.