New Complaint Lodged against Former Priest

By Deborah Sederberg
The News-Dispatch
December 9, 2008

MICHIGAN CITY - For the first time, officials with the Diocese of Gary have heard from a resident of the diocese who says he was molested by former priest Richard Emerson.

Emerson, who is no longer a priest, had assignments at St. Thomas More in Munster, St. Joseph's in La Porte, Assumption in East Chicago and Notre Dame in Michigan City.

Just after 3 p.m. Sunday, Bishop Dale Melczek received a copy of the complaint filed by Florida attorney Joseph Saunders in cooperation with Chicago attorney Mark Pearlman. The lawsuit is on behalf of a 16-year-old who accuses Emerson of abusing him while he was serving at St. Thomas More. The alleged abuse, however, is said to have occurred in White County, where Emerson had a home near Monticello, Ind. Emerson and Melczek are named as defendants.

Saunders made the announcement at a news conference in Chicago last week.

Saunders also represents two Florida men who say Emerson abused them in Florida.

In December 2004, Melczek removed Emerson as pastor of Notre Dame Parish in Michigan City after an investigation by the Diocesan Review Board found charges of abuse made by one Florida man to be credible. The suit for the second man was filed just a year ago.

"We have had not one word" accusing Emerson of harming anyone from Notre Dame parish, the bishop said.

On June 22, 2004, Melczek received a letter from Saunders in which the attorney describes the allegations one of his Florida clients made. The accuser says he was abused between the ages of 11 and 18 while Emerson was serving temporarily in Florida.

In a Dec. 23, 2004, letter to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then-Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and now Pope Benedict XVI, Melczek told of his decision to remove Emerson from his duties as pastor. Moreover, Emerson was forbidden to celebrate Mass publicly or to administer the sacraments. He was not to reside in any residence in which a minor lives or is present and he was not to wear clerical garb or represent himself as a priest.

On Dec. 9, 2004, three women from St. Thomas More parish came to Melczek to express their concerns about Emerson's conduct with male youth. The bishop intended to proceed with a judicial trial through the church's legal system.

To date, Emerson has not been charged with any crime.

The diocese had no trial because Emerson applied for and was granted laicization which effectively separated him from the priesthood and from his obligations to the priesthood.

Saunders released a letter he obtained from the Diocese of Orlando, Fla., in which the then bishop Norbert M. Dorsey, wrote to the late Gary Bishop Norbert Gaughan. In the letter, Dorsey explained that he was returning Emerson to his home Diocese in Gary because "he is giving inappropriate attention to two teen sons of a particular family." He further said Emerson seemed to be alienating one of the sons from his mother while the parents were in the midst of a divorce.

"He is harassing the mother with charges of not being a good mother and alienating her from her 15-year-old son," the letter said.

Melczek said he never saw that letter until a reporter showed it to him last week. He also said he can understand how Gaughan, in 1991, might not have interpreted the letter as an implication of sexual misconduct. Rather, he well could have seen it as an account of an overzealous priest's misguided attempt to intervene in a family matter.

"We weren't thinking about child abuse in 1991 as we do today," Melczek said, adding that his suspicions would be on high alert were he to receive such a letter.

Saunders said he got the Dorsey letter from the Diocese of Orlando, but officials from the Gary Diocese said they could find no such letter.

Melczek said his heart breaks for victims of sexual abuse, for their families and for the faithful. "These are terrible, terrible things," he added. "A priest is there to minister to the people, to do Christ's work."

Contact Deborah Sederberg at


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