Former Sedalia Priest One of 35 Removed for Misconduct
By Nuria Martinez-Keel
December 28, 2018
|Father Deusdedit Mulokozi leads a Catholic procession in 2014 in Sedalia. The Diocese of Jefferson City expelled Mulokozi in 2015 after a 15-year-old girl reported he had hugged her inappropriately during a counseling session at Sacred Heart Church.|
An allegation of inappropriate behavior toward a teenager in Sedalia led to the expulsion of a priest from the Catholic Community of Pettis County.
Deusdedit Mulokozi was one of 35 priests removed from the Diocese of Jefferson City, according to a November announcement from Bishop Shawn McKnight.
In 2015, the diocese deemed Mulokozi “unsuitable for ministry out of concern for the safety of our youth,” according to the announcement. Former Bishop John Gaydos expelled him from the diocese, forcing his removal from ministry in Pettis County.
Mulokozi, known familiarly as Father Deo, served at Sacred Heart Church and St. Patrick Church in Sedalia and St. John the Evangelist in Bahner from 2014 until the allegation emerged in May 2015. He came to Pettis County from Tanzania as a member of the religious order Missionaries of the Precious Blood.
A 15-year-old girl reported to the Sedalia Police Department that Mulokozi had insisted on hugging her after a one-on-one counseling session at the Sacred Heart Church rectory. Before she left the room, he gave her “not a normal hug but a dirty hug,” according to SPD documents.
Detectives investigated her report and later requested the priest be charged with third-degree assault in Pettis County Circuit Court.
Third-degree assault in 2015 involved offensive contact or touching. Pettis County Prosecuting Attorney Phillip Sawyer said his office chose not to file the charge against Mulokozi because evidence in the case didn’t prove criminal conduct.
The girl disclosed details of her encounter with Mulokozi during an interview at Child Safe of Central Missouri.
She said she had been seeing Mulokozi for counseling once every two weeks at the rectory. The girl described the priest as her guidance counselor and a person she trusted, according to police documents.
On May 10, 2015, they stood up to leave at the end of a session, and the girl put out her hand for a handshake. Mulokozi pulled her in for an embrace, saying, “No, I want a hug,” according to SPD documents.
The girl said in her interview that Mulokozi had hugged her before but “not like that.”
“At that point in the interview, (the girl) started crying,” according to police documents. “(She) then exclaimed, ‘Why did he hug me that way? It was dirty.’”
She said she pulled away from the priest, and he put his hand on her cheek and kissed her other cheek three times. Mulokozi reportedly pulled her in for a hug again, moaning and moving his hand up and down her middle back.
The girl said she “wouldn’t even hug her boyfriend like that and that it was dirty and disrespectful.”
Mulokozi had a different account of the events, telling police the girl had hugged and kissed him on the cheek first, according to a record of his police interview. He argued he only hugged her in return and kissed her on the cheek once.
The Diocese of Jefferson City placed Mulokozi on an initial two-week suspension for an investigation into the report. The priest’s religious order, Missionaries of the Precious Blood, relocated him to Liberty and later sent him to a treatment center in the Houston area for further evaluation.
The Diocesan Review Board examined the case and came to a consensus that Mulokozi’s alleged actions amounted to “boundary violations,” said Helen Osman, director of diocesan communications. For this reason, the diocese separated Mulokozi’s name from the list of priests it considers to be credibly accused of abuse.
Regardless, Gaydos took the board’s findings and expelled Mulokozi from the diocese, ensuring he would not be allowed to enter the entity’s boundaries.
“When the allegations came forward, they were significant enough that the bishop said, ‘You can’t even live in the diocese. We want you gone,’” Osman said. “That’s the reason we used the term expelled. He would not be welcome to live here.”
Before the bishop’s final decision, the diocese reportedly allowed Mulokozi to lead a high school prayer service while he was under investigation by police and the review board.
Mulokozi emailed a statement to SPD in 2015, outlining his account of the allegation and the events afterward. He said he was already scheduled to lead a baccalaureate prayer service in La Monte, and the diocese allowed him to carry out the service before leaving for Liberty.
Osman said the diocese has no record of allowing Mulokozi to lead the prayer service or of the person who could have given him permission to do so. The diocese’s standard procedures prevent clergy from acting publicly as a priest while on suspension.
The provincial director of Missionaries of the Precious Blood said he was also unaware Mulokozi was allowed to lead the high school prayer service while on suspension. Father Joe Nassal, who heads the order’s Kansas City province, said it was inappropriate to allow the priest to spend more time around minors while under investigation for misconduct with a teenage girl.
However, the religious order later came to the conclusion Mulokozi didn’t pose a threat to children and returned him to ministry in Tanzania. He spent several months at the Shalom Center in the Houston area, where Nassal said the religious order sends priests accused of abuse for assessment.
The center wrote a letter of recommendation supporting Mulokozi’s return to ministry, Nassal said. The order sent Mulokozi back to Tanzania where he continues to work in missions today. Nassal said the Tanzania province was fully informed of the accusation against Mulokozi.
“My reaction is always great sadness; a lot of people are hurt by what’s going on in the church,” Nassal said of the allegation. “Father Deo was, as I remember as being, very surprised because he didn’t know what was happening. I think part of it was a cultural situation. I was sad for Father Deo. He seemed very upset by the accusation.”
Mulokozi’s departure caused controversy among local Catholics, particularly in the Hispanic community, with some supporting the priest and others speaking against him, Nassal said. A priest from the order’s reconciliation ministry in Chicago came to Sedalia to assist in mending the rift in the congregation.
Missionaries of the Precious Blood also hosted a listening circle in Sedalia where people could share their thoughts on Mulokozi’s allegation and expulsion.
“It’s a very sad time in the church,” Nassal said. “I feel the pain of those who have felt the abuse. It’s a very sad time, and we need to be more transparent in the way we deal with all of this.”