Rockwall Priest Agrees to Leave
Dallas Bishop Sought Resignation Amid Protests from Public
Dallas Morning News, The (TX)
February 7, 2005
An embattled pastor announced his resignation Sunday, making him the second Dallas Catholic Diocese priest in a week to fall in connection with sexual misconduct allegations.
The Rev. William "Bill" Richard said he was leaving Our Lady of the Lake Church to bring "peace and reconciliation" to the parish, where protesters recently began pressing Dallas Bishop Charles Grahmann to remove him. They have cited Father Richard's efforts to save the job of a top aide - who is serving probation for indecent exposure - and his dismissal of critics from church positions. His last day is Wednesday.
Bishop Grahmann responded to the campaign by seeking Father Richard's resignation last week. It is highly unusual for him to give in to parishioners' personnel demands, especially given the diocese's severe shortage of priests - one was arrested on child pornography charges last week in Grand Prairie, and another recently was suspended for planning to get married.
Behind the Rockwall controversy lies some history that has never been publicized: A lawyer wrote the bishop in 1993 to say that Father Richard had been sexually harassing several boys at a Dallas Catholic high school and a Plano church. Sworn statements from three boys followed, describing unwanted looks, requests, comments and massages of the chest, back and shoulders.
"From time to time, Father Richard invited me to his bedroom, which made me uncomfortable and afraid," said a former altar boy's affidavit, which was filed in a lawsuit against the diocese. "Father Richard discussed bestiality with my brother and me, and seemed to imply he had participated in bestiality."
In 1994, Bishop Grahmann transferred Father Richard from the high school to Rockwall, where he succeeded a priest who had molested a girl and been sent to an out-of-state treatment center.
Father Richard has denied the allegations, which apparently went uninvestigated. On Sunday, he declined to comment after church services. Kevin Carr, the affidavit's author, told The Dallas Morning News that no one from the diocese or law enforcement ever contacted him.
Texas law says anyone who has "cause to believe that a child's physical or mental health or welfare has been adversely affected by abuse" must notify state authorities. Abuse is defined as including not just physical violence and sexual conduct, but also any "emotional or mental injury" that affects a child's functioning.
Bishop Grahmann's Texas Catholic newspaper, which his spokesman Bronson Havard edits, reported in 2002 that a psychologist had reviewed all the diocese's clergy personnel records "for any indication of violations of state laws relating to minors." None of those "who were found in this category" remained in diocesan ministry, the paper said.
"The diocese has a 'zero tolerance' of persons who have abused children," according to the article. It described Dallas as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Web site also has: as a national model for protecting children and vulnerable adults.
Mr. Havard, who formerly worked as a deacon in Rockwall under Father Richard, did not respond to requests for comment Sunday.
At church services, Father Richard also announced the resignation of his aide and friend John Sarlay.
Mr. Sarlay, a layman who has long served as Our Lady of the Lake's music minister, pleaded no contest last year to charges that he masturbated in view of an undercover police officer at a Dallas mall restroom. He has not responded to requests for comment.
Mr. Sarlay and Father Richard got standing ovations after a Sunday Mass. Many parishioners, some choking back tears, stood in line afterward to speak with the priest.
Elsewhere, people who have been boycotting Mass cheered the resignations. "Hundreds and hundreds of prayers have been answered," said Dan Muckensturm, a leader of the protesters.
Father Richard's behavior deeply affected some boys who knew him at St. Mark the Evangelist Church in Plano and Bishop Lynch High School in Dallas, according to interviews and documents.
Mr. Carr, for example, cried when describing a late-1980s incident with Father Richard at St. Mark, friend Sean Perkins recalled.
"He could barely talk," said Mr. Perkins, who advised him to tell an adult. Mr. Carr told The News he alerted a parent, who did not believe him.
Further reports of trouble began to emerge in fall 1991 at Bishop Lynch, where Father Richard had been sent as chaplain.
Steve Boughton, who taught theology and coached the golf team, said several boys confided in him that the priest scared or disturbed them. Chris Tunnell, who also taught theology, said about four boys told him the same thing.
Mr. Boughton particularly remembered one athlete, who he said spoke with a trembling lip and teary eyes. The teacher's journal, which The News reviewed, shows this entry from that time:
"He said that Father Richard watched him showering in the boys locker room and stared at him. Father said that he 'was a handsome boy.'"
Brothers Richard and Aaron Kopecky, who attended Bishop Lynch then, said some students may have overreacted to the priest. Father Richard was widely perceived as gay, they said, and frequently touched people when communicating.
"As far as I know, he never did anything wrong," said Richard Kopecky. "He's a nice guy."
Mr. Boughton said he, too, initially minimized the boys' concerns, telling them that Father Richard was trying to be friendly. After complaints persisted, he notified first one supervisor and later another, but nothing changed.
Ultimately, he spoke to Father Richard. "He was deeply concerned," according to Mr. Boughton's journal. "I asked if I should tell the students that he is just showing friendship. He said, 'Yes! Yes! Let them know I don't mean anything by it!'"
But soon, principal Ed Leyden accused Mr. Boughton of spreading rumors about Father Richard and improperly having pupils at his own house. The teacher denied wrongdoing and said he refused pressure to quit, but his contract was not renewed at the school year's end. He later sued the diocese, saying he had been punished for blowing the whistle.
The diocese denied the claim, and the case was dismissed before evidence could be heard.
Mr. Boughton did not seek publicity for his case but agreed to talk after being contacted by The News.
"The whole thing was put in motion to protect the priest," he said. "It was like the boys didn't matter."
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