Memphis’ first Catholic bishop replaced on downtown mural after child sexual abuse accusations

By Nina Harrleson
September 8, 2019

[with video]

Memphis’ first Catholic bishop has been replaced on a mural downtown months after he was included in a list of clergymen accused of molesting children.

The "Upstanders Mural" – on a wall across from the National Civil Rights Museum – is supposed to honor heroes, but after allegations of child sex abuse against the late Carroll Dozier surfaced earlier this year, the group that painted the mural decided he no longer belongs there.

“I would certainly say that that would be their right to change that. And I think as time changes with people, society changes, ideas change, beliefs change, and I think you have to go with that," Bob Gray, who's visiting Memphis from Door County, Wis., said. "If you don't change, if you don't continue, you're never going to progress."

Pat Moore, of Chicago, Ill., shared the same sentiments.

“If the bishop was guilty of molesting children, I mean, I don’t think it’s any good reason to have his face memorialized on a city wall," he said. “The bishop was human. He had his shortcomings it seems. He should be forgiven, I guess, but it doesn’t mean we have to not recognize what he did.”

Dozier was the first bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Memphis and served from 1971 to 1982.

He died in 1985 at the age of 74, but the sexual abuse allegations didn't come to light until February when the Catholic Diocese of Richmond in Virginia released a list of clergy accused of what they call, "credible and substantiated claims of sexual abuse against a minor."

"This is a long overdue and grudging public relations move," said David G. Clohessy, an abuse victim and the former long time head of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). "The bishop's priorities are backwards. His first job is to protect kids. So he must post - permanently and prominently - the names of every credibly accused child molesting cleric on church websites. Then, he can shift to making small gestures like this one."

SNAP Tennessee also made a statement about Dozier being removed from the mural.

"We are glad that the group Facing History and Ourselves has realized that we cannot honor pedophiles in any way.  We must give a better example to our children.  SNAP hopes that the Catholic Diocese will follow the example of this group and remove Dozier's body from the Cathedral, his name from the walls, and his images from all churches and schools.  It is the least we can do for our children."

In a statement Sunday, the group Facing History and Ourselves, which painted the mural, said, in part:

"When we conceived of creating a mural on the outside of our building, our aim was to celebrate Memphis’ leading historical figures who have made invaluable contributions to bringing our communities together and moving forward across racial, ethnic, cultural, and religious boundaries. It was in that spirit that we included Bishop Dozier.

Given the allegations against Bishop Dozier, we have decided that in the best interests of our students, schools, and communities, to replace Bishop Dozier with another Memphis historical figure."

The group spent Saturday doing just that. And where Dozier's image once stood tall among those famous city leaders, now stands a painting of Jose Guerrero, one of the founders of Latino Memphis.

WREG reached out to the Catholic Diocese of Memphis Sunday for comment, but haven’t heard back.

Rocco Palmo, editor of the Catholic news website Whispers in the Loggia, told WREG that, according to his sources, "the Memphis Diocese’s lay review board will soon make its recommendations on the Dozier case, which will probably lead to his body being removed from the cathedral there."


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