Former Area Priest Named in Abuse Suit

By Pete Wickham
Jackson Sun [Tennessee]
September 15, 2006

Daniel T. DuPree, a former priest and pastor at churches in Memphis, Jackson, Lexington and Parsons, is named in one of two multimillion-dollar abuse and negligence lawsuits filed Thursday against the Catholic Diocese of Memphis.

The suits, filed in Shelby County Circuit Court, seek damages in excess of $10 million for each of two unnamed clients. In separate cases against DuPree and the Rev. Joseph Nguyen, the plaintiffs charge they were sexually abused while living in the Memphis area.

In the suit against DuPree, who served at St. Mary's Church in Jackson, St. Andrew Church in Lexington and St. Regina Church in Parsons from 1987 to 1991, the priest is accused of sexual abuse of an unnamed male resident of Bartlett. The Bartlett resident, now 37, was a freshman in high school when he met DuPree.

The suit says incidents of sexual abuse began in 1985, while DuPree and the alleged victim were visiting with DuPree's family in Texas, and continued for several years after that.

In addition to his parish duties, DuPree was a counselor at Christian Brothers High School in Memphis in 1985 and 1986, an assistant coordinator of the Memphis Diocesan Youth Ministry in 1988 and 1989 and an assistant director of the youth ministry in the Jackson Deanery in 1991, according to the suit.

Diocesan spokesman Rev. John Geaney on Thursday said DuPree was "removed from the ministry" in 1992. He currently lives in Texas.

Geaney said that the diocese was served with the lawsuit Thursday, and is in the process of studying the papers. He also added that "the charges are against the two individuals."

But the DuPree suit charges that the diocese failed to investigate, warn and protect their client from the priest, to disclose its awareness of facts surrounding DuPree and admit its own negligence with regard to hiring, supervision, assignment and retention of the priest.

The suit was filed by Memphis-based attorney Gary K. Smith in conjunction with a Miami law firm, Herman & Mermelstein, which has been involved with abuse suits in other areas. The attorneys released information about the suits at a press conference in Memphis Thursday.

It is the second time in less than a month that a priest associated with St. Mary's has been linked to the sexual abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church.

On Aug. 20, Rev. Richard Mickey told his parishioners he was stepping down after three years as St. Mary's pastor, citing personal reasons and a pending sexual abuse lawsuit brought by two brothers who said he abused them in 1980 while he worked as a counselor at Bishop Byrne High School in Memphis.

"It breaks my heart in so many ways because I love this church so passionately and it's never disappointed me in my journey of faith," said longtime parishoner Patsy Turner. "But there is such a dreadful break in trust when something like this happens."

Turner, who came from a Southern Baptist background, said she worked with DuPree in the catechism program for adults seeking to join the church.

"He was a very bright young man intellectually, very enthusiastic in all the duties the senior pastor asked him to perform," Turner said.

During her dealings she said "he never seemed to fit the mold" of someone she might suspect of abuse.

She said she believes she has read some of the victim's letters that have appeared on the SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) website.

Adam Horowitz, an attorney for Herman & Mermelstein, said that this suit does not address activity involving DuPree at churches outside Memphis, but added "we have heard of complaints from other parishes."

Horowitz said, "We're familiar with the perpetrator, and the Diocese of Memphis' handling of Father DuPree was inexcusable. Anyone suspected of child abuse should not be in a position of trust and supervision."

Geaney said he was unable to immediately determine if there had been other suits filed against DuPree either in Memphis or as a result of his other postings.

Geaney added that Nguyen was removed from the ministry on Thursday by Bishop J. Terry Stieb. Nguyen had been serving as a chaplain at St. Peter Villa, a nursing and rehabilitation center in Memphis.

Stieb has been bishop in Memphis since 1993. The incidents surrounding DuPree came during the tenures of former bishops J. Francis Stafford and Daniel Buechlein.

Stafford served from 1982 to 1986 before becoming Archbishop of Denver. In 1998 he was elevated to the rank of Cardinal and is now serving in Rome.

Buechlein was in Memphis from 1987 to 1993 before a promotion to his current post as Archbishop of Indianapolis.

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