Prosecutor Says Church Should Have Reported Sexual Abuse Cases

The Associated Press, carried in Tennessean [Memphis TN]
December 5, 2004

MEMPHIS Catholic Church officials failed to report to authorities two cases of sexual abuse allegations involving minors despite state laws that a prosecutor says required the church to do so.

Two years ago, a man told Memphis Catholic Church officials he had been sexually abused by Father Paul W. St. Charles as a teenager in the late 1970s.

Four years ago, parents told church officials Father Juan Carlos Duran had sexually abused their son.

In each case, church officials took actions against the priest but didn't report the allegations to agencies that might launch a criminal investigation.

"Some of the things that happened are not reportable. For example, in the Duran case ... the relationship he had with Father Duran was noncustodial. That's not a reportable crime," said Diocese spokesman Father John Geaney.

But Assistant District Attorney Kevin Rardin, chief prosecutor of child sexual abuse cases in Shelby County and head of the Child Protection Investigation Team, disagreed.

"I am, in fact, shocked that a Catholic priest would maintain that a priest is not responsible for the care of children," Rardin said.

Duran, who is no longer a priest, was sent by the Dominican order to an undisclosed medical facility in Maryland for treatment.

St. Charles, who retired in 1986 and now lives in the Nashville area, was suspended from any priestly duties last week by Memphis Bishop J. Terry Steib. St. Charles, 65, worked as a priest in Nashville in the 1960s before moving to Memphis. He also worked in Union City, in Obion County of northwest Tennessee, in 1974.

A telephone call was placed to St. Charles' Nashville home yesterday afternoon and the priest referred a reporter to Father Dexter S. Brewer in Decherd, Tenn., who represents him in this case.

Reached at his home, Brewer, who is the canonical advocate for St. Charles, said that St. Charles denies any accusations of sexually abusing anyone. He said St. Charles was suspended pending an internal church investigation locally and in Rome.

"The church is being careful, especially these days," Brewer said. "It needs to determine what happened, if anything. Father St. Charles certainly denies it. There have been no findings one way or the other at this point."

Meanwhile, the diocesan review board that recommended the suspension is considering several other allegations against others not yet made public or reported.

"In the case of minors, we follow the state statute. It is diocesan policy to report it if a minor was involved," Geaney said.

But Geaney said church officials believe the accuser must be a minor when either he or she comes forward and the accused must have legal custody of the child when the child is between 13 and 17 years old, believed to be the age range of the accusers of Duran and St. Charles. Their names have not been released by church officials, and The Tennessean does not name victims of sexual abuse.

"The same thing is true in the case of the person who has an allegation against Father St. Charles. He's not a minor and therefore it is a nonreportable crime," Geaney said.

Rardin said the church's interpretation is wrong.

"The public has a duty to report and that includes the Catholic church. That's Tennessee law," he said.

State law says that any "neighbor, relative, friend or any other person who knows or has reasonable cause to suspect that a child under 13 has been sexually abused shall report such knowledge" to the state Department of Children's Services, a sheriff's department or the police.

Another statute on reporting sexual abuse of children 13-17 says the alleged abuser must be "a parent, guardian, relative, person residing in the child's home, or other person responsible for the care and custody of the child."

Rardin said that doesn't relieve the church of an obligation to report such abuse. He also stressed that he wasn't commenting on the merits of either case.

It is a misdemeanor not to report such abuse, and another statute as well as a 2001 attorney general's opinion make it clear there is no exemption for privileged communications involving clerics when it comes to child sexual abuse.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.