Priest who knew of sexual affair in Dallas diocese says he didn’t plan to report it

By Nichole Manna
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
January 23, 2020

[with video]

The priest at the center of a small uprising within the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth admitted that he never planned to report knowledge he had of a sexual relationship between a Dallas-area priest and a church employee, according to court documents obtained by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Furthermore, he admitted to joking with a supporter about putting a hit out on Bishop Michael Olson to have his knees broken, according to the documents.

The Rev. Richard Kirkham left the diocese in June 2018 after writing that he was “reluctantly” resigning. He later retained an attorney and moved to rescind his resignation. Olson declined to reinstate the priest. Kirkham has appealed his resignation with the Vatican.

In the year and a half since the resignation, about 1,500 parishioners who represent 20 parishes petitioned to the Vatican to remove Olson. Though Kirkham’s resignation from St. Martin de Porres in Prosper is a small part of the reason they seek Olson’s removal, Kirkham leaving is what sparked the group to step up.

Kirkham’s attorney filed a civil defamation lawsuit in July 2019 against the bishop, alleging that during Olson’s address with Kirkham’s former church and in interviews with the Star-Telegram, the bishop implied that Kirkham’s removal was because the priest was dangerous to minors and the vulnerable.

Olson’s attorney, Michael Anderson of Fort Worth, said Olson has no plans to settle the lawsuit and that Kirkham and his supporters have been on a campaign to smear the bishop.

During the deposition, Anderson read an email that Kirkham sent to a supporter in which he wrote, “call ya brother and have him call out a hit. Easy target.”

Asked what he meant by that comment, Kirkham said it was a joke because the email recipient was supposedly related to someone in the Kansas City mob.

Kirkham said he didn’t know for sure about any mob connections but that it was “always a joke in the family.” He denied that the joke was about killing Olson and said that it was about breaking knees.

For the first time since his resignation, snippets of what occurred between Kirkham and Olson have become public because of the civil lawsuit and a deposition of Kirkham on Jan. 7.

Kirkham’s story about the affair

The court document, filed as a motion in the case, lays out the timeline of Kirkham’s involvement with the Dallas-area priest.

The priests became friends in 2015. Anderson described their friendship as “not one you would expect between two priests.” The priests often spoke lewdly and got alcoholic drinks together.

In several conversations, the Dallas-area priest — who has been moved to a different parish in the diocese — told Kirkham that he twice masturbated at his desk while thinking about a female coworker, Kirkham said.

In 2017, Kirkham said the priest began to brag to Kirkham that he was then having sex with the woman. Kirkham said he did not report the priest to anyone and didn’t tell him that his actions were wrong, according to the document.

“He was just talking out loud,” Kirkham said during the deposition.

Their conversations became more lewd, with the other priest describing his sexual acts in detail. Then, in January 2017, Kirkham said he tried to end his friendship with the priest because he had already done everything he could to get him to end the affair. Shortly afterward, the priest told Kirkham that his relationship with the woman had ended, Kirkham said.

However, a month later, Kirkham said, he found out the priest was still seeing the woman.

Then, in May 2018, Kirkham sent a letter to the priest detailing their conversations. Kirkham threatened to report the priest to the Dallas diocese for his alleged sexual misconduct and predatory sexual harassment in the workplace.

Olson said no official report has ever been made by Kirkham — which violates the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth’s safe environment policy that mandates officials make reports if they hear of allegations of sexual abuse or misconduct — and is the reason Olson asked for his resignation.

During a meeting with Olson following his resignation, Kirkham said he never planned to make a report, according to the court document.

When asked if the priest has been removed, the Dallas Diocese said it investigated the claims in Kirkham’s letter and found they weren’t true. That priest is still employed by the diocese. Many supporters of Kirkham questioned that if there was no affair, why would Kirkham have to report it. However, Olson has said that as far as Kirkham believed, there was an affair and therefore it should have been reported.

Anderson, Olson’s attorney, said after Kirkham’s deposition, the priest and his attorney tried to settle the lawsuit.

“The deposition testimony completely undercuts Kirkham’s defamation claim,” Anderson said, pointing out that in an article in the Star-Telegram, Olson is quoted saying that he tried to make clear during the address with St. Martin de Porres that Kirkham’s removal did not have anything to do with a crime.

“I said that he resigned, and I was very cautious in how I said it,” Olson told the newspaper in December 2018. “I wanted to assure them that no crime had been committed, no act against a minor, and also I wanted to protect those in the letter.”

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