6 more former students alleged sexual abuse by priests at Dallas Jesuit Prep

By David Tarrant
Dallas Morning News
November 18, 2020

Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas is named in a new lawsuit alleging sexual abuse of former students by priests assigned to the school.
Photo by Tom Fox

Mike Pedevilla shows a yearbook photo from his freshman year at Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas.
Photo by Ryan Michalesko

[with audio]

Six more former students at Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas have joined a lawsuit saying they were abused by priests when they were enrolled in school there.

The latest plaintiffs bring to eight the number of former students in the lawsuit, first filed in Dallas County civil court in August 2019, against the school and the Catholic Diocese of Dallas, among others, alleging that they were sexually abused in the early 1980s by five Jesuit Prep priests.

Six of the eight plaintiffs are using pseudonyms in the lawsuit. All eight men say they were abused during a time in the late 1970s and 1980s, when a cluster of priests that have since been found credibly accused of sexual assault, taught, counseled or coached students at the exclusive Jesuit Prep, according to records.

The priests named as defendants in the suit include: the Rev. Peter Callery, a teacher and wrestling coach; Vincent Malatesta, a teacher and counselor who was removed from the Jesuit Order in 2002; and Robert Crisp, a former diocesan priest. Three deceased priests are also named in the lawsuit: the Rev. Patrick Koch, a former principal and president of the school, who died in 2006; Rev. Donald Dickerson, a former teacher and administrator, who died in 2018; and Benjamin Smylie, a teacher at Jesuit Prep, who died in 2004. Dickerson was added to the list of defendants in an amended filing made Wednesday.

The lawsuit alleges the Dallas diocese, Jesuit Dallas Prep and the Jesuits' U.S. Central and Southern Province, the priests' spiritual order, all failed in their duty to protect the students, allowing the abuse by the priests to occur over several years and then covering it up.

“One of the most troubling aspects of the case is that it is evident the Jesuit Order had knowledge that some of these priests had accusations lodged against them for sexually inappropriate conduct and even abusing young boys,” said a statement from the plaintiffs' attorneys Charla Aldous and Brent Walker. “Despite these allegations, the Jesuit Order placed these priests or allowed them to remain as teachers at Jesuit Prep School in Dallas thus exposing the students to pedophiles.”

Therese Meyerhoff, a spokeswoman for the Jesuits of the U.S. Central and Southern Province, declined to comment about the specific allegations. She said that Father Callery was removed from public ministry in accordance with the policies of the order, and “he will not resume ministry until this lawsuit is resolved.”

Jesuit Prep president Michael A. Earsing also declined to discuss specific allegations in a brief statement.

“We wish to reiterate that we continue to extend our compassion and support for all victims of sexual misconduct and abuse,” Earsing said. “As we have previously stated, it would not be appropriate to discuss the specifics of the lawsuit.”

The Dallas diocese said in a statement it is a separate entity from Jesuit Prep, which was founded by the Jesuit Order.

“The claim as to Robert Crisp is the only one involving a Diocese of Dallas priest in this lawsuit,” the statement said. “The other claims asserted in the current lawsuit do not pertain to Dallas Diocese priests.”

The diocese does not address specific allegations but noted that Crisp’s name is on the list of priests with credible allegations released by the Diocese of Dallas on January 31, 2019.

“Bishop [Edward J.] Burns continues to encourage anyone who has been abused to report it to law enforcement, and he continues to offer prayers for all victims of abuse and their families,” the statement said. " The Diocese of Dallas remains vigilant in providing the safest environment possible for the people we serve.

Three of the eight plaintiffs allege abuse at the hands of the late Rev. Patrick Koch, who held the positions of teacher, guidance counselor, principal and president of the school from 1972-80. He continued working as director of alumni from 1980-86.

Koch is accused of sexually abusing plaintiffs Mike Pedevilla, as well as plaintiffs Charles Jones and James Johnson who are both using a pseudonym in the lawsuit. The Dallas Morning News doesn’t typically name survivors of sexual abuse, but Pedevilla gave an interview with The News in 2019.

The 1983 graduate said the abuse occurred when he was a sophomore. Pedevilla got tuition assistance in exchange for working at the school. That included answering the phones in the priests' residence in the evenings. During his sophomore year, Pedevilla recalled, he was pulled out of class to meet with Koch, a counselor at that time working out of the president’s office. After turning out the lights, the priest sat down on the floor, crossed his legs and told Pedevilla to close his eyes and do the same. Koch kissed Pedevilla, who said he recoiled and pulled away.

Pedevilla said the abuse led to suicidal thoughts, poor grades, a decades-long crisis of faith, difficulties with trust and long-term relationships, and drug and alcohol abuse.

According to the lawsuit, Jones, who entered Jesuit as a freshman in 1982, knew Koch because the priest often had dinner at the Jones family home. Koch would call Jones to the office to ask how he was doing. Koch began grooming Jones, complimenting him on his good looks and touching him affectionately, according to the lawsuit.

“Koch began pushing the boundaries with Charles by placing his face in the crotch of Charles' pants multiple times while in his office,” the lawsuit says.

The abuse continued in 1984 when Koch offered to take Jones to the World’s Fair in New Orleans. During that trip, Koch visited Jones one night in his separate room at a convent where they were staying. According to the lawsuit, Jones awakened to see Koch masturbating while stroking Jones' hair. Jones retreated to the bathroom, where he hid for hours.

Jones left Jesuit the next semester. He suffers from "recurring nightmares,' and has struggled with heavy drinking at times, suffered problems in his relationships and has been diagnosed with PTSD and depression, according to the lawsuit.

Another Koch accuser is identified in the lawsuit under the pseudonym James Johnson. Koch “made unwanted, inappropriate sexual advances and physical contact” with Johnson, the lawsuit alleges. Koch gave Johnson shoulder and back rubs and would whisper in his ear “and would then kiss his ear,” the lawsuit alleges.

Johnson also alleged that he was touched inappropriately by the Rev. Donald Dickerson, who taught at Jesuit Prep in the late 1970s and early 1980s, according to records. Dickerson was removed from the Jesuit order in 1986 and died two years ago.

Another man, identified in the lawsuit under the pseudonym Adam Williams, alleged that he was abused by Crisp at St. Pius X, a Dallas Catholic school offering classes from kindergarten through 8th grade. According to the lawsuit, Crisp fondled Williams during a camping trip. Williams then attended Jesuit, where his grandparents had been custodial workers and close friends of Koch.

Williams was invited by Jesuit’s wrestling coach, Rev. Peter Callery, to wrestle with him after school -- even though Williams wasn’t on the team and the wrestling sessions made him feel “uncomfortable,” according to the lawsuit.

Callery was also accused by another plaintiff, identified by the pseudonym Richard Roe, whose story appeared in The News in October 2019. The lawsuit says Roe was molested by Callery in a hotel room when the school wrestling team traveled to a match.

In his junior year in 1982, Williams was called to the office of the Rev. Vincent Malatesta, a school counselor, according to the lawsuit. Malatesta told Williams that he was working on his artistic skills and wanted to draw Williams.

The priest told Williams to remove his clothing article by article until only he was standing in his underwear. At that point, Malatesta fondled Williams, the lawsuit alleges. The abuse happened again during another session, except this time the priest performed oral sex on the boy, the lawsuit says.

Williams was so upset that he intentionally flunked out of school. He since has learned that another plaintiff in the Jesuit lawsuit, identified under the pseudonym John Smith, had a similar experience with Malatesta the year before in 1981 and reported the priest’s sexual misconduct to then-vice principal Mike Earsing, who then reported it to the Jesuit order, the lawsuit says.

“It is clear that the Jesuits at the School and the Jesuit Order did nothing to punish or stop Malatesta from preying on young boys, and as a result, Adam Williams' life fell apart in a way that he still struggles with today,” the lawsuit says.

Along with Mike Pedevilla, another plaintiff, Dennis Petersen, has also joined the lawsuit under his own name. Petersen, who currently lives in Mexico and maintains a home in Denton County, alleges sexual abuse by the late Rev. Benjamin Smylie when Petersen was a freshman at Jesuit in 1981, according to the lawsuit.

Petersen’s mother was dying at the time, and he was not dealing with that well, getting into trouble at home for using marijuana and not doing well at school, the lawsuit said. Petersen was sent to see Smylie for counseling.

According to the lawsuit, Smylie began complimenting Petersen’s appearance and running his hands through Petersen’s hair. Then he got permission from Petersen’s parents to take the boy to the Montserrat Jesuit Retreat House at Lake Dallas.

Smylie drove Petersen to the retreat, stopping to pick up beer and cigarettes at a store. They spent the night drinking and smoking before Dennis passed out in his sleeping bag. He awoke to find Smylie fondling his genitals and attempting oral sex on him. Petersen pretended to be asleep and after the assault he fled to another room.

Afterward, Petersen got into more trouble and eventually was removed from the school, which was his wish, the lawsuit says. Though records show he was only a student at Jesuit for two months, his life “was irrevocably changed” because of the assault, the lawsuit says.

“Unfortunately Dennis has not had necessary therapy and still struggles with the impacts from his sexual assault,” the lawsuit says, which adds after suffering numerous interpersonal conflicts, he eventually moved to Mexico to work for a boat company.



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