$2 Million Paid to Priest Sex Abuse Victim

By Bill Dries
Daily News
February 27, 2009

The Catholic Diocese of Memphis and the Dominican religious order have settled a lawsuit claiming a Memphis priest sexually abused a teenager, with a $2 million payment to the victim.

The dollar figure is the largest publicly disclosed in any of the lawsuits alleging child sexual abuse by Memphis Catholic priests.

A settlement with the diocese was announced Feb. 16 in Circuit Court, leaving the claim against the Dominicans. A settlement of the John Doe claim against the Dominicans was announced Thursday morning before Circuit Court Judge Charles O. McPherson.

Attorney Gary K. Smith, representing the victim, told The Daily News the Diocese of Memphis has agreed to pay $1.55 million and the Dominicans have agreed to pay another $450,000.

The victim and his family reported in 2000 that the Rev. Juan Carlos Duran had sexually abused him. He was 14 years old at the time. Duran was a Dominican priest assigned to Church of the Ascension in Raleigh in 1999.

Duran was the first priest the diocese had hired to minister to the city's growing Hispanic population. Like Duran, John Doe is also from Bolivia. The abuse of the boy lasted approximately six weeks in early 2000.

"There were two important facets (to) the settlement. I think it reasonably compensates my client for being victimized," Smith told The Daily News. "This case helped bring light to how this problem happened to begin with, how it occurred on other occasions with other victims and what needed to be done to fix it and prevent it happening again."

Steven Vescovo, the attorney representing The Order of Preachers also known as The Dominicans said he was pleased "we were able to resolve the matter to everyone's satisfaction."

Asked if the case has changed the way the religious order deals with instances of child sexual abuse, Vescovo said the order has changed because of the allegations that have plagued the Catholic church in recent years.

"It's hard for me to say this case in particular. What's happened everywhere has forced everybody to take a long hard look at what they were doing and how they were conducting business," he said.

Neither the diocese nor the religious order ever disputed that Duran had sexually abused the boy. The legal issue was whether the diocese and the order should have known or did know that Duran was a danger to the boy.

Depositions in the case with church officials showed Duran had a long history of child sexual abuse before he came to Memphis. He had been kicked out of the Franciscan religious order for such abuse, and Franciscan officials warned Dominican superiors about him. Duran was moved in several cases before he got to Memphis because of allegations of abuse.

Diocesan officials insisted the Dominicans withheld the information. But they also admitted that they failed to get a letter of good standing for Duran from the Dominicans, which is a requirement. They also never questioned Duran about a resume that omitted the years during which he was a Franciscan and in a St. Louis seminary, where he was accused of child sexual abuse.

The boy filed the civil lawsuit in 2004 when he turned 18. It was one of the first in a series of civil lawsuits in Shelby County claiming abuse by six Memphis priests.

The case was scheduled to go to trial Monday before McPherson.

The case is not dismissed with the settlement. Still pending is a motion by Smith to unseal or make public depositions and other records in the case that are expected to deal with abuse allegations and admissions involving at least 15 other priests.

The attorney for the diocese admitted in court earlier this month that 15 Memphis priests had been accused of child sexual abuse since the diocese was founded in 1971.


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