Lawsuit says Dallas diocese did not protect young girl from priest’s abuse

By David Tarrant
Dallas Morning News
January 31, 2020

The Rev. Richard Brown appeared at the Call to Holiness conference in 1996 in the Detroit suburb of Sterling Heights.

The former priest, Richard Thomas Brown, poses for a picture in the 1980s when he worked at several parishes in the Dallas area.

[with video]

After former Dallas priest was arrested this week on a charge of child molestation, another victim’s family filed a civil lawsuit against him and the Dallas Catholic Diocese

Richard Thomas Brown, who in the 1980s was assigned as an assistant pastor at Holy Family of Nazareth in Irving, repeatedly sexually assaulted an 8-year-old girl from the parish, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday.

One day, Brown took the girl out of Sunday school class and molested her in the rectory – the priest’s residence, where most of the assaults took place, according to the lawsuit.

The victim is being identified by a pseudonym, Jane Doe, in the civil lawsuit brought on her behalf by her aunt. Filed in Dallas County, the lawsuit names Brown and the Dallas Catholic Diocese as defendants.

Tahira Khan Merritt, a Dallas attorney who represents the plaintiff, said in a statement that her client’s “childhood and adulthood were devastated by the sexual abuse she suffered at Father Brown’s hands when she was a little girl.”

The woman, who is now in her mid-40s, “has been unable to develop and mature into a functioning adult who can provide even basic needs for herself,” Merritt said. “She will need care for the rest of her life.”

Annette Gonzalez Taylor, a spokeswoman for the diocese, said church officials had not yet seen the lawsuit and could not comment.

Brown, 78, was arrested late Wednesday after he was charged with one count of sexual assault of a child in a case involving a different victim. He was taken into custody in Missouri and is pending extradition to Texas.

Brown and four other priests were at the center of a Dallas police investigation into abuse allegations in the Dallas diocese, according to a search warrant affidavit police obtained in May to raid diocese offices.

Two diocese officials wrote in a letter to Detective David Clark in September 2019 that they hoped police were working to find Brown and take him into custody.

“News that a warrant for his arrest has been issued fulfills the hope of the diocese that justice will be served,” the diocese said in a written statement Wednesday.

“Gross negligence”

The lawsuit alleges gross negligence against the Dallas Diocese, including its bishops, and details multiple complaints to the diocese about Brown from other victims and their families, starting in the mid-1980s until the early 1990s.

Brown was forced out as pastor of Our Lady of the Lake in Rockwall in 1994, nearly a year after another young woman told church leaders he had abused her in 1981, when she was a girl and he was in Washington, D.C., on a summer study leave.

After that, the diocese sent Brown to a church-run treatment center in Connecticut, where a psychiatric evaluation indicated the priest “had a long history of pedophilic behavior,” according to a police arrest warrant affidavit obtained by The Dallas Morning News.

Brown continued to work as a priest and helped lead conferences and spiritual retreats for adults in Michigan and other states.

In 2004, the victim confided in her aunt that “something” had happened when she was alone with Brown, and the aunt immediately notified the diocese, which said it didn’t know where the priest was, the lawsuit said.

“No one offered to help JANE DOE,” the lawsuit alleges. “No one reached out.”

In October 2018, the aunt again contacted the diocese about Brown’s actions, and the diocese alerted police.

In May 2019, Clark tracked down Brown to an abbey in New Mexico, where the former priest admitted to befriending the victim’s family and sexually molesting her, the affidavit says.

The lawsuit also says the diocese failed to warn Holy Family parishioners that Brown had a history of molesting children, fully investigate reports of sexual assaults and notify law enforcement authorities.

In a video posted on the Dallas diocese’s website, Bishop Edward J. Burns commented on Brown’s arrest.

“Richard Brown was removed from public ministry in the early ’90s, and has been laicized," he said. “We are pleased that justice is being served.”

Though Brown was stripped of his authority to act publicly as a priest, he wasn’t laicized, or defrocked, until September 2019.

The Catholic Church worldwide has dealt for more than two decades with allegations of sexual misconduct by clergy members and cover-ups by church officials.

The Dallas diocese has been under significant public scrutiny since August 2018, after its public disclosure that Edmundo Paredes, a former priest at St. Cecilia Catholic Church in Oak Cliff, had been accused of sexual abuse of children and had apparently fled the country. The victims reported the abuse to the diocese, which alerted Dallas police.

The Police Department assigned a detective full time to Catholic sex-abuse allegations in light of that case. The diocese, at the urging of Burns, meanwhile, has pushed transparency measures, including the release of a list of 31 priests they determined were "credibly accused” of sexually abusing minors.

But the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP, has criticized the measures as too little, too late.



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