Accused Priest Was Frequently Reassigned

By Marc Chase
Northwest Indiana Times [Indiana]
August 21, 2005

Reviewing the work history of a region priest accused of sexual abuse, two former Catholic monks turned victims advocates and one priest turned whistle-blower said they picked up on a familiar set of patterns.

A timeline compiled by The Times of the Official Catholic Directories during the Rev. Richard A. Emerson's 26-year career in the priesthood shows nine different moves to various parishes or other diocesan assignments, an average of about one move every three years.

Emerson's timeline shows extensive contact with youth during his career, including four years as head administrator of Schererville's Hoosier Boys' Town -- a home for troubled youth now called Campagna Academy -- and six years as the Diocese of Gary liaison for the Boy Scouts.

And throughout his career, Emerson has held high positions of authority within the Diocese of Gary, including a three-year stint at the diocesan chancellor -- or chief administrator -- and as a consultant on policy to the diocese and its bishop.

Add to Emerson's resume two accusations of sexual abuse against boys that the church has now deemed credible, and you have the "classic profile" shared by many priests who have been accused of and/or proved to be pedophiles, former monk Patrick Wall said.

"It's the perfect profile, actually," Wall said, noting that many of the priests who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse across the country have held high positions of authority within their diocese or religious orders and often have had positions giving them access to children.

Wall served as a monk for 11 years and a priest for 6 years during the 1980s and '90s. During that time, he said he was tasked with defending priests in his order who had been accused of sexual abuse. Wall now works for a California law firm as a consultant in cases in which victims of abuse seek civil action against accused priests.

Emerson, who is on suspension from his latest assignment as a priest at Michigan City's Notre Dame Church but has not been charged with any crimes, could not be reached for comment by The Times. He has previously denied the allegations through an attorney in Miami.

Late last year, Emerson was accused in a civil lawsuit of molesting a Florida boy during a four-year period in which he served as a visiting priest in the Diocese of Orlando. And earlier this month, the Diocese of Gary announced that both that accusation and a second one that has surfaced involving another boy have been deemed credible by a diocesan review board.

The Rev. Brian Chadwick, Diocese of Gary spokesman, said Emerson's assignments during the priest's career -- made by diocesan bishops over the years -- had nothing to do with allegations of sexual abuse or other scandals. He said the diocese had no knowledge of any previous accusations of sexual abuse against Emerson until late last year.

But the Diocese of Orlando, where Emerson served as a visiting priest for four years between 1988 and 1991, confirmed last week that Emerson was sent back to Gary by a Florida bishop amid accusations that the priest was becoming too personally involved in a family situation within that diocese.

The Rev. Tom Doyle, a former Vatican canon lawyer in Washington, D.C., who now is an outspoken critic of the church's handling of sexual abuse matters, said he agreed with Wall that Emerson's resume is similar to that of other priests who have been accused of sexual abuse.

Doyle was among three priests who were stifled by the church in 1985 after presenting a report noting a rise in accusations of sexual abuse by priests and warning the church to take action.

"It's not necessarily indicative of a regular pattern that everybody who has been accused of abuse has had high-profile positions, but it's not uncommon," Doyle said. "I'm working on a case right now where a priest was denounced for having sexually abused a young teen-aged boy in a parish and then went from that assignment to teaching at a boys' high school."

Richard Sipe, a retired Benedictine monk who works as a traveling lecturer on celibacy and sexuality within the Catholic Church, said he also has noted that it is common for abusers or others involved in scandal to hold leadership positions within their orders or diocese.

"How do you handle a scandal? One way is to send them out to the boondocks or move them around a lot," Sipe said. "But the other way is to draw them close to the bishop so they can be better managed. You draw them into the chancery. I've seen dozens of cases in which these guys are chancellors or other leaders within their diocese."

Sipe said he dealt with a case in Arkansas in which four of the six administrative heads of a religious order had been implicated as either sexual abusers or alcoholics.

Emerson, a Hammond native, began serving as chancellor of the Diocese of Gary in 1992, returning to the region after his four-year stint in Orlando. Emerson was reported to have gone to Orlando during that time period to care for his ailing mother.

Orlando Diocese spokeswoman Carol Brinati confirmed last week that Emerson returned to Gary in the midst of a different scandal. While in Florida, Emerson requested to be incardinated there -- or permanently transferred from Gary to Orlando, Brinati said.

However, that request was denied and the Orlando bishop commanded Emerson back to the Diocese of Gary for disobeying orders to stay away from a parish family there, Brinati said.

Brinati would not comment on the specific nature of that allegation, except to say that it did not involve sexual abuse. Brinati said the Orlando bishop had received a call from a mother of a parish family, complaining that Emerson had been meddling in family affairs.

The bishop warned Emerson to break off contact with the family. When that didn't happen, the priest was sent back to Gary, Brinati said.

A lawsuit filed late last year in Orlando alleges that when Emerson returned to the Diocese of Gary, he continued having a relationship with a Florida boy who he had been molesting. The suit alleges that Emerson often plied the boy with alcohol before molesting the child.

It also alleges that he took trips across the country with the boy and sent bus tickets so the child could travel to Indiana.

Details about the separate, most-recent allegation have not been disclosed by the Diocese of Gary, whose leaders have said they want anyone else who may come forward with allegations of abuse to know that their identities will be protected.