Former St. James priest was accused of sexual abuse in Arkansas, but was omitted from Baton Rouge list

By Andrea Gallo
February 5, 2019

Photos of statues and Catholic church property scenes around Baton Rouge, Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019.

The list of abusive clergymen the Diocese of Baton Rouge produced last week did not include a Marist priest who was the pastor of St. Joseph Church in Paulina three decades ago and who was later credibly accused of sexual abuse in Arkansas.

Timothy Francis Sugrue is the second Marist priest who served in St. James Parish who was publicly accused of sexual abuse. The other one was included on the Diocese of Baton Rouge’s list of credibly accused clergy, but Sugrue was not. Diocese of Baton Rouge spokesman Dan Borné said Tuesday that the diocese was still researching Sugrue's record and would report back to The Advocate once officials have more definitive information.

The newspaper's archives show that Sugrue worked in Paulina, on the east bank of the Mississippi River, between 1980 and 1987 and possibly longer, and that he presided over scores of local weddings and funerals during that span. After Sugrue left the Diocese of Baton Rouge, he and the Marist order faced a lawsuit in 1992 regarding alleged sexual abuse. A woman in Alabama said Sugrue had sexually abused her in 1978, when she was 8 and he was a military chaplain at the now-closed Eaker Air Force Base in Blytheville, Arkansas.

The alleged abuse happened before Sugrue moved south to Louisiana. The attorney who represented the woman who alleged abuse by Sugrue told The Advocate that he believes it's likely the priest has victims elsewhere.

Morgan “Chip” Welch, now a state judge for the 6th Judicial District Court in Arkansas, said in an interview Tuesday that when he asked Sugrue about abuse in a number of cities, the then-priest alternated between invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and denying that he had abused anyone.

“His pretrial deposition was a game of`Connect the Dots,'” Welch said.

The lawsuit — unlike many clergy abuse lawsuits that are settled out of court — went to trial in 1993. The Associated Press reported at the time that Sugrue invoked the Fifth Amendment more than 15 times during the trial, including when lawyers asked about him specifically about Louisiana, and when he was asked if he had enticed the plaintiff to touch him in a sexual manner. He did testify, though, that he did not have sexual intercourse with the victim or fondle her, the AP reported.

The jury in 1993 awarded the woman $1.5 million in damages. The award set off a new round of litigation over who was required to pay.

Sugrue had taken a vow of poverty as a priest and had few assets, while the Marist Society argued in 1993 that it was not responsible for paying damages. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 1996 the Marists were under no legal obligation to pay the damages. In both 2003 and 2013, judges revived orders requiring that Sugrue pay the damages, court filings show.

Yet Welch said Tuesday that Sugrue has not paid a cent of the money, despite judges reviving the damages. If Sugrue dies without paying, Welch said the victim could try to make a claim for whatever is in the ex-priest’s estate, though there may be little available.

The Diocese of Little Rock in Arkansas included Sugrue on a list it released in September of clergy within its geography who had been credibly accused of sexual abuse. Little Rock's list included few details about the priest but said Sugrue had one known victim and that he was dismissed from the priesthood in 2005 — more than a decade after the woman filed her lawsuit. At the time of the trial, Sugrue was working as a business manager for the Marist order, Welch said.

Sugrue, who is in his 80s and is listed in public records as living in Florida, could not be reached for this story. The Marist order in Washington, D.C., where he once lived, did not return a message Tuesday.

The other Marist priest on the Diocese of Baton Rouge list was Clarence Biggers, who served at St. Joseph between 1964 and 1967. The Catholic Diocese reported that he had multiple allegations of abuse from his time in Paulina, while several women in Georgia also alleged that Biggers abused them when they were students at a Catholic school there. Biggers is dead.

In other cases, the Diocese of Baton Rouge's list included clergy members accused of abuse elsewhere who served in the Baton Rouge area. The diocese's list, for example, included six priests accused of abuse in the Archdiocese of New Orleans who also served in Baton Rouge, along with four religious order priests who had served in Baton Rouge and had been named in previous disclosures. And when Baton Rouge Bishop Michael Duca released the list last week, he said he expected it to evolve as more allegations came to light.

Sugrue is not the only priest whose absence on the list from the Diocese of Baton Rouge has raised questions.

Robert Limoges, a former Lafayette priest, was accused of abusing multiple boys between 1980 and 1982 while he was a pastor at Our Lady of Victory in Loreauville, according to a lawsuit filed in 1991.

The Diocese of Lafayette knew of Limoges’ problems at the time and sent him in 1983 to the House of Affirmation treatment center for priests who struggled with pedophilia and other problems, court records unearthed by The Advocate in 2014 showed. The Diocese of Lafayette then wrote in 1984 to Baton Rouge’s former bishop, Stanley Ott, and asked that Limoges be transferred to a church parish in Baton Rouge.

“Any assignment will be such that it will make it possible for Father Limoges to continue in counseling,” former Diocese of Lafayette Vicar General Henri Alexandre Larroque wrote in his 1984 letter to Ott, which Lafayette's KATC-TV has posted on its website. “It is also understood in this process that you may communicate whatever information you deem necessary with the clergy personnel board, the intended pastor or anyone whom in your own judgment you deem should know.”

Limoges only lasted two months as associate pastor of St. Joan of Arc in Bayou Pigeon, KATC reported, citing clashes with the pastor. He was suspended and removed from the diocese in 1984 and he went to live in an abbey, KATC reported. It isn't known whether he is still alive.

“We have no record of any allegations of abuse against (Limoges) while he was in our diocese,” Borné said. “The Diocese of Lafayette has not yet officially released its list. If he appears on that list, we would of course amend our list and include him.”



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