7 Tarrant women accuse priest of sexual abuse

Fort Worth Star-Telegram/December 11, 2009

The woman said she was 7 years old when the Rev. Joseph Tu Ngoc Nguyen took her into his church office. He held her in his lap and began fondling and kissing her, court documents allege.

"It has affected my entire life," said the woman, now in her 40s and a hospice nurse in Tarrant County. "It was a damaging message to learn at that age."

On Friday, she and six other women sued the Roman Catholic priest, who served in Arlington and Bedford. An eighth accuser will serve as a witness, said the women's attorney, Tahira Khan Merritt of Dallas.

The suit accuses Tu, a member of a Dominican religious order, of sexual molestation and exploitation of girls and young women. The Star-Telegram does not typically identify possible victims of sexual crimes.

Tu's most recent attorney, H. Allen Pennington Jr. of Fort Worth, could not be reached for comment late Friday.

"Too often stories about the life-altering effects of clergy sexual abuse are focused on priests abusing altar boys," Merritt said. "In this case, Father Tu preyed on not only little girls ... but also on young, vulnerable females who trusted and believed in the teachings of the Catholic Church."

Besides Tu, named in the suit are the Fort Worth Roman Catholic Diocese, Bishop Kevin Vann and the Southern Dominican Province of St. Martin de Porres, based in Louisiana.

In a statement, Vann expressed concern for the women.

"Any form of sexual abuse is a tragic violation of an individual's God-given right to exercise control over their own bodies and their own behavior," he said.

Tu served in the diocese from 1975 to 1993 with two stints at St. Matthew Catholic Church in Arlington and one at St. Michael Catholic Church in Bedford, according to the diocese. Allegations against him first surfaced in the mid-1970s, when he was accused of repeatedly kissing two underage sisters. In court filings, the priest's attorney has said that the kissing of the two girls, if true, amounted to unacceptable conduct, not sexual abuse.

Friday's lawsuit alleges that Tu had a psychosexual disorder and yet the late Bishop Joseph Delaney transferred him to the Galveston-Houston Archdiocese.

Tu was suspended in Houston after a 2006 allegation that he fondled a teenage girl's breast.

A Tarrant County teacher is among those suing Tu. She was a young teenager when Tu touched her inner upper thigh and breast, according to the lawsuit. She says the response from the diocese and the Dominicans has been inadequate.

They are "sending a message that the way that myself and the other women were treated was acceptable - 'It's bad conduct but it's OK,'" she said.

"My main concern is that Father Tu is still practicing Catholicism and is still a priest."

My main concern is that [he] ... is still a priest."
One of the plaintiffs

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