Abuse Suit Filed against Retired Priest

By Tara Dooley
Houston Chronicle
July 12, 2002

A retired Catholic priest has been accused of sexually abusing a boy parishioner in the 1970s at St. Andrew Catholic Church in Channelview.

A lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in Galveston alleges that the Rev. Jesse S. Linam abused an unnamed plaintiff, now an adult living in California, from the fall of 1973 through the summer of 1974.

It also claims that officials of the Diocese of Galveston-Houston "knew or should have known of (Linam's) dangerous sexual propensities."

The suit says the abuse caused chronic psychological injuries that kept him from recognizing their cause until after January 2002. He seeks $ 14 million in damages. Several telephone calls to the plaintiff's attorney, Felecia Y. Peavy, were not returned Thursday.

Linam declined to respond to the allegations.

"On advice from the attorneys, I have no comment," he said.

In a statement, officials of the Diocese of Galveston-Houston said they were informed of the lawsuit Monday. It was filed July 1.

Linam was permanently removed from ministry in August 1993 after the diocese learned of a report of sexual abuse against a minor that had occurred years earlier, the statement said.

Diocese officials said they did not know if the man who reported the abuse in 1993 was the same man who filed the suit last week.

"Linam has not been allowed to celebrate Mass in public or function as a priest in any capacity for the last nine years," the statement said.

News of the lawsuit came as a surprise to the current pastor at St. Andrew, the Rev. Stephen Zigrang, who came to the church in 1997.

Linam was a priest at the church from 1973 to 1985, according to court papers. Zigrang said he did not know Linam well, but that the retired priest was instrumental in helping construct the current church and building the parish community.

The suit alleges Linam "ingratiated himself with the plaintiff," becoming a close family friend.

The plaintiff's family helped found St. Andrew and Linam was considered a friend, spiritual adviser and honored guest in their home, the suit says. The family encouraged the child to become an altar boy and hoped he would one day become a priest, the suit said.

The suit claims the diocese was negligent in its appointment and supervision of Linam. It also alleges fraud against the diocese and claims that officials knew Linam "was a danger to minor boys and (failed to) remove him from a position involving contact with minors."

Under Texas law, plaintiffs alleging abuse when they were minors must file negligence suits within two years from the time they turn 18 and fraud claims within four years, said Timothy A.

Hootman, a Houston lawyer who has worked on civil sexual abuse cases (SEE CLARIFICATION).

"The federal court sometimes has jurisdiction because of where the parties are located, but the same law applies," he said.

The suit claims that the plaintiff was so emotionally disturbed by the abuse that he did not remember it until January 2002 (SEE CORRECTION). If the claim is determined to be true, the plaintiff has two years to file a suit that claims negligence, four years if it claims fraud, Hootman said.

In general, child sexual abuse victims often do not come forward immediately because they feel overwhelming shame, guilt or embarrassment, said Miguel Prats, a co-founder of the Houston Chapter of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP.

The national SNAP organization has called on state legislatures to change rules that limit the number of years a plaintiff who was sexually abused as a minor has to file a lawsuit.

"It is very, very painful for survivors to finally gather up the courage and strength to understand that they have been hurt, to understand that they can heal by confronting their abuser . . . only then to be told that they are out of luck," said David Clohessy, director of the Chicago-based national group.

In January, former Boston priest John Geoghan was sentenced to prison for fondling a 10-year-old boy. Since then, more than 200 priests have been dismissed or have resigned from their positions and hundreds of lawsuits alleging clerical sexual abuse have been filed nationwide.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops gathered in Dallas last month to approve a new policy on clergy sexual abuse. One of the provisions of the policy was that any priest who had ever sexually abused a minor was no longer allowed to celebrate Mass in public or wear clerical dress.

In accordance with those rules, Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza of the Diocese of Galveston-Houston informed Linam in a letter June 20 that he could no longer wear clerical dress or present himself as a priest.

A similar letter went to seven priests in the diocese, said church spokeswoman Annette Gonzales Taylor. Taylor declined to identify the priests. One was Monsignor Charles Schoppe.

Last month, the diocese announced new allegations by three adults who said Schoppe had abused them as minors. Schoppe was forced to retire in 1992 after the church confirmed he had sexually abused a child 30 years earlier.

The statement from the diocese said Fiorenza expressed "his deep sadness and regret to anyone who was sexually abused by Linam."

Where to report Allegations of sexual misconduct with a minor by Linam can be reported to the diocese's Victim's Assistance Coordinator at 713-659-5461.

CORRECTION-DATE: July 13, 2002
CLARIFICATION: In addition to negligence and fraud, the lawsuit alleges the priest and the diocese participated in a civil conspiracy to conceal sexual abuse. Unpublished clarification 7/12/02.

CORRECTION: This article incorrectly stated that a lawsuit "claims the plaintiff was so emotionally disturbed by the abuse that he did not remember it until January 2002."

The article should have stated that the plaintiff's "chronic psychological condition has prevented him from understanding and appreciating that the serious emotional, physical and sexual difficulties he suffers from were the direct result of the sexual abuse and the other actions described herein until after January of 2002."


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