Church's Clearing of Priest Disputed
FW: Sisters Say They Were Abused As Girls, Urge Release of Files
By Brooks Egerton
The Dallas Morning News [Texas]
March 2, 2006
Four members of a North Texas family told a judge Wednesday that Catholic Church representatives had misinformed him and the public about the church's response to clergy-abuse allegations.
In sworn written statements, two sisters and their parents disputed assertions that the Dominican religious order investigated allegations against the Rev. Joseph Tu long ago and cleared him of sexually abusing the women when they were girls. The Dominicans, the relatives wrote, have never even contacted them.
The two sisters, who are now in their late 30s, and their parents urged Tarrant County state District Judge Len Wade to unseal Father Tu's personnel file, which is the subject of a legal fight between Catholic officials and the region's two major daily newspapers.
"I want the record to be accurate and for Judge Wade to have the complete picture of Father Tu's recurrent misconduct, and of its cover-up by his employers and superiors," one sister's affidavit says.
Judge Wade agreed last week to release files on six other accused priests who worked in the Fort Worth Catholic Diocese, despite church representatives' arguments that the men had a right to privacy. All six have been removed from ministry or died.
The judge postponed a decision on Father Tu – who was transferred to the Galveston-Houston Archdiocese in 1994 and remained on duty until last week – after the priest's lawyer argued that allegations against him did not amount to sexual abuse.
"He did sexually abuse us," one sister's affidavit countered.
She said that in the late 1970s, when she and her sister were between 7 and 9 years old and attending St. Matthew Church in Arlington, "He pulled me onto his lap and held me tightly. ...
"He would say, 'Kiss, kiss' and then kiss me on my face, neck and mouth. I vividly remember how wet his lips were."
The priest's lawyer, H. Allen Pennington Jr. of Fort Worth, declined to be interviewed. In a written statement, he said he was studying the sisters' affidavits and would respond "through appropriate court proceedings."
Father Tu has declined interview requests from reporters. Galveston-Houston officials announced last weekend that they had suspended him while the Dominicans investigate another woman's complaint that he abused her when she was a girl in Arlington. The woman says Fort Worth church officials were alerted to the abuse shortly after it happened in 1977; the Dominicans say they have no record of that.
Three other women also have accused Father Tu of molesting them in the Fort Worth Diocese. They say they were young adults when he groped their breasts or buttocks.
In an interview with The Dallas Morning News, the younger sister who submitted an affidavit criticized the Galveston-Houston Archdiocese for a news release it issued last year defending Father Tu.
"The result of [the Dominicans'] investigation found that Father Tu was not guilty of sexual abuse of minors," the release stated. "The alleged victims' family confirmed that there was no sexual abuse."
"There's no family member that could ever have made that statement," the younger sister said.
Galveston-Houston spokeswoman Annette Gonzales Taylor said her bosses relied on information from the Dominicans. "We have not been involved in the investigation," she added.
In her interview, the younger sister said she didn't understand how church representatives could minimize Father Tu's conduct.
"If you walked in and someone had hold of your child like that and was kissing her on the mouth, wouldn't you be horrified?" she asked.
"What happened is seared in my memory," the woman added. "It has always bothered me."
Her sister made similar statements in her affidavit. Each said they had seen Father Tu abuse the other in his church office.
The sisters and their parents used their real names in the affidavits. The News does not identify victims of sexual abuse without their consent.
The Tu case typifies U.S. Catholic leaders' reluctance to aggressively enforce the "zero tolerance" discipline policies they adopted four years ago in Dallas, lay leaders recently told The News. The policies don't define abuse and say that questions about whether a particular behavior is abusive should be referred to "recognized moral theologians."
Dr. Janet Smith, a moral theology professor who advises the Vatican's Council for the Family, said it was "profoundly disappointing" to hear that church representatives didn't consider the kissing incidents to be sexually abusive.
"He's doing things that are foreplay," said Dr. Smith, who teaches at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit and formerly worked at the Dallas Diocese-affiliated University of Dallas. "It's totally creepy. ... Get him out of there."
The younger sister and her sibling said they told Fort Worth Diocese officials about the incidents in 1993, about 15 years after they occurred. They spoke up, they said, after two women they knew alerted the officials that Father Tu had molested them as young adults.
The priest was then sent to a clergy treatment center for several months. Officials there concluded that "because of a very underdeveloped psycho-sexual personality, he may have been prone to act inappropriately," church correspondence shows.
After treatment, Father Tu was transferred to Houston, where church officials say he has faced no misconduct allegations.
His history first came to public attention last year when The Dallas Morning News and Fort Worth Star-Telegram asked Judge Wade to unseal records of all priests who had been accused of sexually abusing children in the Fort Worth Diocese.
The judge had sealed the records during litigation between the diocese and accusers of another priest.
After the newspapers took the matter to court, the diocese said that Father Tu and seven other clerics were "the eight priests who were accused of sexual misconduct with minors" since the diocese's founding in 1969.
It has continued to oppose release of their personnel files and is expected to appeal Judge Wade's unsealing order.
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