National Victims" Group Calls for Suspension of Catholic Priest Accused of Inappropriate Sex
By Brendan Kirby
February 19, 2015
|Rev. Johnny Savoie ... denies sex-abuse allegation.|
A national support group for sexual abuse victims said Thursday that a Mobile priest accused of an inappropriate sexual relationship with a teenager a decade ago should be suspended.
The allegation has surfaced in connection with an unrelated lawsuit accusing St. Pius X School of failing to protect students from severe bullying. The Rev. Johnny Savoie is the pastor of the church and oversees the school's administrators.
Barbara Dorris, outreach director of Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, criticized Archbishop Thomas Rodi's handling of the sexual-abuse allegation.
"Alabama's highest ranking Catholic official is breaking the national church abuse policy and breaking the trust of parents, parishioners and the public by recklessly, callously and secretly mishandling child sex charges against one of his priests," .
Rodi has said officials received the allegation involving Savoie in December 2013 and reported it to local authorities in accordance with the church's child protection policy. Baldwin County District Attorney Hallie Dixon confirmed Thursday that her office received the complaint but did not pursue charges because the alleged victim was at the age of consent in Alabama, 16, when the two-year relationship was supposed to have begun.
The teenager worked part time at St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Fairhope, where Savoie was based at the time.
Savoie told his congregation at St. Pius about the allegation in February of last year, adding that he had passed a lie detector test, according to court records.
To Dorris, those steps were insufficient. She accused Rodi of hiding allegations from the broader public for a year.
"Now Rodi is going even further and using parishioner donations to pay lawyers to try to keep a continued lid on these allegations," she said in the statement.
That is a reference to the Archdiocese's hiring of Vickers, Riis, Murray & Curran, a Mobile law firm that directed the internal investigation of the incident and which also represents Savoie and St. Pius X School in the bullying suit.
SNAP Director David Clohessy said in an interview that church leaders in Mobile should have acted far more aggressively as soon as they received the complaint.
"Bishops have long pledged to put the safety of young people first and be open and honest with their flocks," he said.
Clohessy said that Rodi's actions are "minimally different" from the conduct of Catholic bishops in years past who protected pedophile priests.
"But it's not substantively different," he said. "The national bishops' policy essentially says suspend first and then investigate."
Clohessy said the church should react similarly to the way that police departments automatically put officers on leave following the use of their service weapons. He said Rodi should remove Savoie from his parish and then visit every church where he has ever served and solicit information that could corroborate or disprove the allegation.
And Catholic officials should urge witnesses to go straight to the police, not church "bureaucrats," Clohessy said.
"What should happen now is what should have happened a year ago," he said.
Defense attorneys have sought to block attorneys for the former St. Pius student who is suing in the bullying case from getting access to the private investigator's report and other records associated with the allegation about Savoie's alleged relationship with the teenager.
David Kennedy, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys, said he could not discuss the case or the allegation against Savoie in detail.
"We're going to continue to pursue discovery in these cases and get to the bottom of all these matters," he said.