Orlando Man Sues Priest, Bishops, Charging Negligence, Sex Abuse

By Christopher Sherman
Orlando Sentinel [Florida]
January 13, 2005

An attorney for the Orlando man accusing a Catholic priest of years of sexual abuse filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the priest and two bishops, including the leader of the Diocese of Orlando.

The suit says the Rev. Richard Emerson sexually abused the man during a seven-year period in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

It also names Orlando Bishop Thomas Wenski and Gary, Ind., Bishop Dale Melczek as defendants, saying the dioceses took no action when earlier complaints were made against Emerson.

Attorney Joe Saunders described his client as a 29-year-old Orlando man who works in a local hotel. Saunders said the man chose not to attend the news conference in front of the Orange County Courthouse because of his anxiety about suing a priest and two bishops.

Emerson, a priest in the Gary diocese, served in three Central Florida churches between 1987 and 1991, including St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Orlando, where his accuser was a student and parishioner.

"We hope that this lawsuit will protect children," Saunders said.

The lawsuit claims that Emerson, who was removed from his Indiana church and placed on administrative leave in December, allegedly used alcohol and pornography to lure the man into a sexual relationship that started in Orlando when he was about 11 years old, but continued after Emerson returned to Indiana, where he brought the boy on trips.

It alleges that both dioceses received other complaints about Emerson without taking action.Sister Lucy Vazquez, the Orlando diocese's victim assistance coordinator, wrote in an e-mail response to a reporter's questions that a family going through a divorce had complained that Emerson was "interfering and alienating family members," but there was no allegation of sexual abuse.

Emerson disobeyed instruction not to contact the family, which led then-Bishop Norbert Dorsey to halt Emerson's attempt to become a priest in the Diocese of Orlando and ask him to return to the Gary diocese, Vazquez wrote.

"The Diocese of Orlando had absolutely no knowledge of any complaints against Richard Emerson when he came to the diocese," Vazquez wrote.

The Diocese of Gary declined to comment, but spokesman the Rev. Brian Chadwick said, "At all times in this investigation . . . the bishop and the diocese have acted in a responsible, diligent and just manner."

Emerson could not be reached for comment.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.