Leader of New Orleans archdiocese ministry's board resigns after filing clergy sex abuse lawsuit
By Ramon Antonio Vargas
Times-Picayune / New Orleans Advocate
May 08, 2020
Board said plaintiff agreeably resigned to avoid appearance of conflict of interest, but plaintiff says he felt forced out
The leader of the board of directors for one of the Archdiocese of New Orleans’ various ministries resigned his post recently after claiming in a lawsuit against the church that he was molested by one of its priests decades ago.
The plaintiff — whom The Times-Picayune | New Orleans Advocate is not identifying because he’s a victim of sex abuse — spoke out about his case after an April 30 letter from the ministry to his fellow board members said he had agreed to resign to avoid “at least the appearance of a conflict of interest.”
But the plaintiff said he had hoped to remain on the board and resigned under duress. He didn't believe there was a conflict because the board is incorporated separately from the archdiocese’s administrative offices, which filed for federal bankruptcy protections on May 1, citing the financial fallout from clerical abuse lawsuits and the coronavirus pandemic.
He said he felt the institution to which he has dedicated years of his life left him with no option but to leave his post, especially as it became clear to him that his identity — which he shielded in his suit — had been revealed to his board colleagues.
“I didn’t see a conflict of interest because the organization I was serving is not related to the suit,” the man said. “That was my position. It was not the position of the other officers. I really had no choice but to step down.”
The archdiocese declined comment on the plaintiff’s lawsuit or his ensuing resignation, citing policy.
The plaintiff’s case dates back to when he entered the fifth grade at St. Ann School in Metairie in 1980, according to records filed in Orleans Parish Civil District Court. One day that academic year, the plaintiff was behind the church rectory when he encountered James Collery, a Spiritan order member who was originally from Ireland and had just been transferred there.
Collery was pretending to tuck in the boy’s T-shirt when he used his hand to fondle the plaintiff’s genitals and penetrate him, the lawsuit alleged. The plaintiff, who served as an altar boy, said Collery, who died in 1987, molested him in similar fashion after catching the boy alone in the sacristy a couple of other times.
Despite the abuse, the plaintiff clung to his Catholic faith as he grew up and began serving on numerous charitable boards and committees associated with the archdiocese. He said he had been in those roles for a number of years when, in 2013, he decided to privately report Collery’s assaults to the archdiocese — specifically, to Archbishop Gregory Aymond, for whom the plaintiff had once been an altar boy.
According to the lawsuit, following an investigation, Aymond called the plaintiff and told him he considered his allegations credible.
The archdiocese agreed to pay for counseling sessions that the plaintiff attended over the next six years, the lawsuit said. Aymond also included Collery in a November 2018 list of clergymen the archdiocese considered to be credibly accused of child molestation.
However, in 2019, the plaintiff asked the archdiocese to mediate a settlement rather than needing to return for payments each time he needed counseling, visits he found humiliating.
After several meetings and calls, the plaintiff requested a figure that the archdiocese’s victims’ assistance coordinator said was too large for his office to handle. The plaintiff said he retained attorneys after the archdiocese refused to negotiate.
The case — which was transferred to federal court after the archdiocese’s bankruptcy filing — promised to be contentious. After the plaintiff hired lawyers, the archdiocese edited the “allegation received” date associated with Collery’s entry on the credibly accused from 2013 — when the plaintiff came forward — to 1983.
The change meant Collery had been accused of abuse three decades before the plaintiff's report, at a time when Collery was still alive. The plaintiff wasn't made aware of that in 2013, and it does not appear that Collery was ever reported to law enforcement authorities, said the lawsuit.
The plaintiff said he’s learned of more victims since anonymously filing his lawsuit April 7. Multiple people with claims against Collery contacted his lawyers after WVUE-TV first reported on the plaintiff's suit.
The plaintiff also said resigning his board seat hasn’t been the only painful development in recent weeks. He said the complex bankruptcy proceedings launched by the archdiocese also stung, for such proceedings inevitably halt the discovery of evidence in the various clerical abuse cases naming the local church.
That evidence could finally detail exactly how the church handled dozens of clergymen it acknowledges are suspected child predators.
“This whole bankruptcy filing is a tremendous disservice … to the many good priests … who work in our archdiocese, who treasure their vocation,” the plaintiff said. “Surely these priests want to know how all this happened, want to defend their integrity and the integrity of their vocation.”