A Request for Father Ryan to Rename Its Football Stadium Reopens a Sexual-abuse Scandal

By Jonathan Meador
Nashville Scene
December 22, 2011

When Father Ryan High School named its new athletic arena Giacosa Stadium in 2009, it intended to honor a respected priest and loyal supporter whose support continued even after his death. But a Father Ryan alumnus has written the school's board of trustees in protest, alleging that the stadium's namesake worked to cover up incidents of sexual abuse within Nashville's Catholic diocese.

Last June, 71-year-old Father Ryan alumnus Charles Michael Coode learned that while the Tennessee Titans were barred from using their regular facilities due to the ongoing NFL lockout, some of their players had been training during the off season at Father Ryan High School's brand new football stadium.

The problem, says Coode, is that the athletic field in question, Giacosa Stadium, is named after a former Father Ryan teacher the late Father Charles "Charley" Giacosa who he claims aided and abetted the church's cycle of abuse and cover-ups by allegedly providing contradictory testimony on behalf of Ed McKeown, a former Nashville priest currently serving a 25-year prison sentence for raping a 12-year-old boy.

Angela Mills, director of alumni and communications at Father Ryan, did not respond when contacted by the Scene via email. But diocesan spokesman Rick Musacchio rejects Coode's assertions.

"It was clear at the time that Father Giacosa was instrumental in helping remove priests from ministry who were unsuitable for ministry," Musacchio writes in an email. "He remained a supporter of the strong safe environment programs of the diocese, and was well respected for his contributions as a priest and pastor. He was a major supporter of Father Ryan High School throughout his priesthood and made a substantial financial contribution to the school after his death."

Among Coode and other members of the victims' rights group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), however, Giacosa is known as "The Hatchet Man." They allege that as an episcopal vicar, Giacosa assisted then-Bishop James Niedergeses with a host of personnel matters that made him part of an ongoing process of damage control, whereby the diocese rotated priests accused of sexual abuse into outlying parishes in an effort to calm the storms of scandal closer to home a practice SNAP says it has extensively documented in Tennessee and Kentucky.

"The Diocese of Nashville is completely unresponsive to victims of abuse," says Susan Vance, East Tennessee director of SNAP.

"If Penn State has taught us anything," she continues, "it has been that the cover-up is as abusive and as heinous as the original acts of rape. Father Giacosa engineered the moving of pedophile priests when victims or their families brought forward an allegation to the church. No police were called. No proper channels were taken. No policies were adhered to. And now, he is honored posthumously."

Were it not for this painful history of sexual abuse, and the ensuing ecclesiastical cover-ups that rocked Nashville when they came to light in the late 1990s, Coode a Father Ryan graduate and a survivor of sexual abuse by a former Father Ryan priest in 1953, before Giacosa's tenure would likely have refrained from writing a letter condemning the school's board of trustees for ignoring the past.

But that's exactly what happened when, on June 29, he penned a letter to Father Ryan's board of trustees and the Tennessee Titans.

"I wrote [the Titans] and the trustees demanding that they not practice there and to rename the football field," says Coode. "I still haven't heard a damn thing from them."

His frustration mounting, Coode sent a second letter to the trustees on Nov. 15.

"To date no one has replied to me, so I wanted to remind you once again of the situation," wrote Coode. "Honoring someone who participated in the horrible cover-up of clerical abuse is only continuing the denial and cover-up of clerical abuse. Please do the right thing. It would be refreshing for a Catholic institution to do so."

Coode has received no response from either the Titans or, more importantly to him, his alma mater's board of trustees, whom he views as responsible for whitewashing the past.

Robbie Bohren, spokesman for the Titans, declined to comment for this story. The Titans' use of the facility, though, was apparently limited. A handful of players utilized the field on a regular basis, and one two-day "camp" was held during which most players were present.

Father Ryan's stadium isn't the only one to carry the Giacosa name. In addition to having a baseball field named after him, Memphis' Christian Brothers High School maintains two endowments the Father Charley Giacosa Memorial Scholarship and the Father Charley Giacosa Baseball Endowment in his honor. Giacosa was a 1955 CBHS graduate.

According to diocesan spokesman Musacchio, Father Ryan's trustees selected Giacosa's name to adorn its stadium, constructed in 2009, after a considerable donation was made to the school by Giacosa's estate following his death in October 2007. Musacchio says the estate's donation was slightly more than $1 million for the $5 million project.

But Giacosa may have left a more ambiguous legacy. News reports and court documents reviewed by the Scene appear to contradict Musacchio's claims regarding Giacosa's role as a watchdog of the diocese. According to a 2005 Tennessee Supreme Court summary judgment, Giacosa and Niedergeses knew by 1986 that McKeown had molested as many as 30 boys or more, but opened no internal investigations into the abuses.

"Bishop Niedergeses," Musacchio tells the Scene, "responded promptly to restrict McKeown's duties, begin treatment, and notify civil authorities when the first and only report of his abuse came forward in 1986."

The Tennessee Supreme Court was more skeptical. The court found inconsistencies in testimony whether the diocese reported McKeown's abuse to state authorities. While court documents reveal that Giacosa arranged to send McKeown to a treatment facility in Hartford, Conn., that "prompt response" apparently didn't include alerting Alice Reid, then an employee of the Tennessee Department of Human Services, of the abuse. Despite Giacosa's claims to the contrary, Reid told the court she was never contacted by the diocese.

"Ms. Reid testified not only that she did not recall Father Giacosa contacting her in the matter of McKeown, but also that she would have remembered it had he done so," the Supreme Court opinion states. "Ms. Reid further testified that had she been contacted, she would have recommended an investigation and the filing of a report with the Department of Human Services."

Compounding this latest flare-up over the naming of Giacosa Stadium are charges by alumni that Father Ryan High School is deleting posts on its alumni website that address allegations of molestation. David Brown, a Father Ryan alum, says that last week a posting he made regarding his abuse at the hands of a former Father Ryan teacher in 1961 suddenly disappeared.

"[My post] stayed up for a day or two, and sometime last week it was deleted," Brown says. "Then I posed another question as to why the page was deleted. Nobody could really give an answer. A couple people posted up there. Then I began to get some vindictive hate posts that I should take it somewhere else."

Evidently speaking on behalf of Father Ryan, in an email exchange copied to Angela Mills, Musacchio denies that the posts were deleted.

"Father Ryan did not delete posts by anyone," he says. "I understand that an alum did delete his own post on Facebook after comments were added relating to abuse by priests but that was not an action of the school administration. Apparently his deletion of his own post may have removed the associated comments. The Facebook page currently has several posts and even more comments by someone who says that he was abused by priests."

Confusingly, the school's Facebook page doesn't have any posts detailing abuses or much of anything else. The last post is dated May 27, 2011, and is one of a meager five posts listed on its profile wall.

To Brown, the situation seems sadly familiar.

"Part of it leaves me speechless," he says. "It's much like when I met with [the bishop] in '96. He said to me this: 'Well, others have dealt with their skeletons in different ways.' And I said, 'If I'm the only one, why are there other skeletons?' I was devastated. In the environment in the culture we grew up in, in the early '60s, those men were men of God, they were giants. We just never imagined that some of these men were doing what they did to us."



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