Lawsuit Alleges Sexual Abuse by Shreveport Priest

November 11, 2010

[with video]

A lawsuit filed against an order of the Catholic church alleges an 11-year-old boy was sexually abused by a priest at St. John Berchman's Church in Shreveport during the 1980s.

The lawsuit -- filed in federal court against the Jesuits of New Orleans, who used to be at St. John Berchman's -- alleges Jesuit priest Donald Dickerson "sexually abused and exploited" the boy in the summer and fall of 1982, when Dickerson was an assistant pastor there.

The accuser is now 40 years old and lives in Nashville. He is identified in the lawsuit as John Doe I.

Dickerson left St. John Berchman's in 1984. His whereabouts have not been confirmed.

The lawsuit alleges the abuse occurred in 1982, when the boy was 11 years old and living in Shreveport. His mother was getting married and the family was converting to Catholicism, he said.

He recalls three or four incidents involving the priest.

"I remember him being nice to my family," the accuser said of Dickerson. "The first memory that I recall, he had come over to my parents' house for Bible study or some type of catechism study, prior to me becoming a Catholic. We went into my mother's room; he closed and locked the door. I was sitting on the bed and he just immediately went over there and stuck his tongue in my mouth and his hands down my pants."

The accuser said an e-mail from a childhood friend he hadn't heard from in 25 years jogged his memory and made him decide to come forward.

His lawsuit alleges the Jesuits, who are no longer affiliated with St. John Berchman's, knew the priest was a sexual predator but did not report him to authorities.

"The Jesuits instead followed the established program for Catholic priests with sexual disorders, which was to cover up the crimes and the priest perpetrators," the accuser's attorney, Felecia Peavy of Houston, said. "We want to determine just how far the damage extends -- how long the list of victims is there in Shreveport."

Peavy represented another person who said he was sexually abused by Dickerson in the 1970s while he was living in New Orleans. Peavy said that case was settled last year and the Jesuits compensated the victim.

St. John Berchman's was established in Shreveport by the Jesuits in New Orleans. They oversaw the parish until 1988.

In a statement, Bishop Michael Duca of the Diocese of Shreveport said: "We all feel a deep sadness whenever allegations of sexual abuse are brought forward. Our compassion and prayers go out to all associated with this case."

The Jesuits did not return a call for comment.

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