Judge: Dioceses Must Turn over Records in Abuse Lawsuit
Man Says He Was Victimized at Minor Seminary

By Denise Malan
April 15, 2009

CORPUS CHRISTI — A judge ordered two Catholic dioceses to turn over records in a civil lawsuit alleging that a Baton Rouge bishop sexually abused a boy in Corpus Christi almost 30 years ago.

In the suit, a Houston man alleges that Bishop Joseph Vincent Sullivan abused him from 1978 to 1982, nearly two years of which he spent in the Corpus Christi Minor Seminary. The man, now 42, was a teenage student in the Baton Rouge minor seminary and transferred to Corpus Christi after schools closed in Baton Rouge and Lumberton.

Sullivan remained bishop in Baton Rouge but would visit the boy at the Corpus Christi Minor Seminary, a high school for boys aspiring to the priesthood. Sullivan died in 1982.

The suit, filed in Nueces County, alleges the dioceses of Baton Rouge and Corpus Christi failed to protect the boy. The Diocese of Corpus Christi argues in court documents that it did not know Sullivan would subject anyone to harm.

The church says it already has turned over all pertinent records, but plaintiffs attorney Mynor Rodriguez said the church has only given him yearbooks and other records readily available from his client.

The accusers attorneys are seeking data the dioceses of Baton Rouge and Corpus Christi turned over to the John Jay College of Criminal Justice as part of a nationwide study in 2003 of abuse in the Catholic church. The study found that 96 percent of participating dioceses had received allegations of sexual abuse against priests by children younger than 18.

This data they have is going to show what they knew and when they knew it, Rodriguez said.

District Judge Jose Longoria limited the request to documents only about the accuser and Sullivan after attorney Gary E. Ramirez of Corpus Christi, representing both dioceses, argued the request was overly broad.

They want this court to allow them to put the Catholic church on trial, Ramirez argued.

Rodriguez said he was not looking for new victims and said the data will show the church knew about the abuse but did not take necessary action. Showing fraudulent concealment would be necessary to overcome the statute of limitations, which ended two years after the accuser turned 18.

The man did not remember the abuse until within two years of the filing of the lawsuit in 2007, according to court documents. Attorney Johnny Garza said memories resurfaced in therapy the man underwent after his second marriage collapsed.

A statement Wednesday from the Diocese of Corpus Christi said the church takes all allegations of abuse seriously and stressed that this incident did not involve any employees or priests of the local diocese.

We pray for the well-being and fair treatment of all parties concerned, the statement reads. Since litigation is ongoing, any further comment is not advisable.

The Diocese of Baton Rouge settled a lawsuit involving Sullivan and a victim with repressed memories in 2004 and renamed a local Catholic high school that had been named for him. It argues the Nueces County court has no jurisdiction over it in the Corpus Christi case.

The local case is set for trial in October.

Contact Denise Malan at 886-4334 at


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