Inside The Priest Files: Documents reveal 50 years of abuse, cover-ups in Memphis diocese

Memphis Daily News/April 11, 2010

John Doe and his family watched 1999 change to the year 2000 in Memphis.

They were visitors to the city, herere for a family medical emergency.

Looking back on it seven years later, Doe would remember "mentally trying to see if the world was going to end because everybody was scared something was going to happen."

The millennium scare never came off. The real problem for the 14-year old boy from another country was a Catholic priest at Church of the Ascension in Raleigh.

The Rev. Juan Carlos Duran, a native of Bolivia, was hired by the Diocese of Memphis to minister to the city's growing Hispanic population. Shortly after the new year, Duran, a Dominican, began sexually abusing the boy over about six weeks.

Duran constantly encouraged the teenager to masturbate and offered to perform oral sex on him, and even said he would buy the services of a prostitute for the boy.

The abuse ended when Doe woke up on the floor of a classroom at the church after he and Duran got drunk. They had fallen asleep after watching a pornographic video and masturbating.

"I remember being on the floor laying down and suddenly I blacked out, I passed out," Doe testified seven year later in a deposition. "When I woke up, he had his arms around me. His pants were off. My pants were undone. That's when I was like, ‘What the hell are you doing with me? Get off me. Take me home. I want to go home. I want to go home.' He was like, ‘Oh come on, stop ... bitching about it.'"

Doe began vomiting and Duran drove him home. The boy's mother made him tell her what had happened and they went to diocesan leaders immediately.

When John Doe turned 18 in 2004, he filed a lawsuit in Shelby County Circuit Court accusing Duran of child sexual abuse.

By then Doe was receiving counseling paid for by the diocese, where no one had reported the abuse to any authorities despite it being a crime under state law. No one from the diocese or the Dominican religious order seemed to know where Duran was.

However, they were adamant that they knew he was no longer a priest. And he had tested negative for the HIV virus.

Diocesan attorney James Kleiser decided against having Duran arrested. In his handwritten notes, he said a Dominican superior "will move Juan to some other place before counseling starts, just to get him out of Memphis."

The Duran lawsuit led to the release of Kleiser's notes and thousands of pages of other church documents, as well as depositions of 18 people, including Memphis Bishop J. Terry Steib.


"Would you agree with me that ... they were allowing those abusers to continue in their position and often would simply move them to another location?" attorney Gary K. Smith asked Steib. Smith, along with Karen Campbell, represented Doe.

"I don't know that the church did not respond appropriately," Steib answered. "I think it responded according to what it knew and believed at the time. I think that many of the times saw this as a very moral issue ... and ... you remove the person ... from the temptation or the sin, you know."

Doe talked of flashbacks from the abuse, of his anger, of his confusion. He also said he had considered suicide as recently as the morning his deposition began.

"This is driving me crazy. ... I have thought about it. But I didn't think I'm going to act on it, but still I have the ideas because of all these things I have in my mind," he said. "I've got depression. I've got anger. I've got rage. I'm furious. I can't believe that this would happen to me. I can't believe I have to go thinking in life about if I'm gay or if I'm straight, what should I do with my life. I have a lot of doubts, not only about my sexuality."

Two years later, the diocese and the Dominicans settled as the case was about to go to trial. They paid Doe $2 million. It is the largest settlement of a priest abuse case ever made public in Memphis.

The Duran case also led to a court order making public thousands of pages of depositions and diocesan documents spanning 50 years. They chronicle abuse allegations against 15 Memphis priests including Duran.

The documents show Memphis church leaders struggled with how to deal with priests who were pedophiles and predators. They struggled with it in silence, never reporting the abuse to authorities even when a board of lay advisers urged them to.

They never warned parishioners with children. And until recently, they believed priests could be treated for the problem because they viewed it as a moral failure.

They weren't curious about abuse allegations against priests before they came to Memphis or even before their tenure in their positions. Some testified that they assumed others in the chain of command had checked out a priest with such allegations. Others testified they relied on the priest's religious order.

Duran was a Franciscan priest expelled from the order for abusing boys in a Bolivian orphanage. He then became a Dominican priest with more abuse allegations following there and in the U.S.

A crucible

John Doe and his family were at Mass at Ascension the day the Rev. Richard Cortesi announced Duran was leaving.

"It was said that unfortunately he had to go," Doe recalled in his deposition.

He recalled that nobody said why Duran was leaving. There was some talk among parishioners that Duran was being discriminated against.

There was tension in the parish, which had a growing Hispanic population combined with longtime parishioners. There was also tension between Duran and the pastor of the church, the Rev. Richard Mickey.

Along with the language barrier, Duran had resented Mickey's attempts to supervise him.

Despite their differences, Mickey and Duran had something in common. Word of the lawsuit involving Duran went public first. But weeks before that lawsuit, Mickey was accused in another civil lawsuit alleging he had sexually abused Blain and Blair Chambers while the twins were students at Bishop Byrne High School in the 1980s. Mickey was not a priest at the time, but worked at the school.

Mickey was pastor of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Jackson, Tenn., when the suit was filed. He was suspended in keeping with Diocesan rules for handling such allegations.

The twins were claiming repressed memories of the abuse had surfaced shortly before they filed the lawsuit.

The diocesan investigation by former District Attorney General John Pierotti cleared Mickey. He returned to his parish with a Mass celebrated by Memphis Bishop J. Terry Steib.

But later Mickey underwent counseling. It wasn't because of the allegations in the lawsuit. Diocesan officials didn't believe them.

All four bishops of the 39 year old Catholic Diocese of Memphis have dealt with allegations of child sexual abuse by priests. They are clockwise from top left, Carroll T. Dozier, J. Terry Steib, Daniel Buechlein and J. Francis Stafford.

But they were concerned about a deposition in the lawsuit from a third man who claimed he and Mickey had dated for two years in the early 1990s when the man was a student at Memphis Catholic High School and Mickey was the school chaplain. The man kept dozens of notes and cards Mickey sent him in which Mickey professed his love and talked of them being together.

That wasn't the first time diocesan officials had heard the claim. Bishop Daniel Buechlein had expressed his concern over the relationship while Mickey was still assigned to the school.

When the man surfaced in the Chambers twins' lawsuit 14 years later, the recently formed Diocesan Review Board, a panel of laypeople to advise Steib on such allegations, decided the allegations were serious enough to warrant an examination.

Mickey went to St. Luke Institute near Baltimore for six months.

"It is a place of therapy for priests and (the) religious," Steib said. "It deals with people who are - who need help, suffering either from depression or addiction or particular problems that they may be having ... including sex abuse problems."

The diocese got results of the evaluation from Mickey. His attorneys and attorneys for the diocese objected to disclosing the results, citing patient privilege. Whatever the evaluation was, it prompted Steib to suggest more counseling.

The diocese paid $57,999 for his treatment and loaned Mickey another $63,192 over three years to pay his legal bills.

"The dialogue was more in a need for him to seek further counseling," Steib testified, saying later that necessitated Mickey resigning "to focus his time on it." Mickey was still getting counseling at St. Luke when Steib testified in the deposition.

Mickey was deposed in 2008 and conceded that the relationship with the Catholic High student was inappropriate. But he denied other parts of the allegation.

"We slept in the same bed. We never slept together," Mickey said. "There was no coddling or not that kind of intimacy going on in that bed. Be we were in the same bed twice."

As for the kisses, Mickey denied kissing the teenager on the mouth. "No, the side of the mouth," he countered.

Mickey also denied he's ever been a danger to children. "I do not believe that I am a risk to minors - then or now," he testified.

Smith, who represented John Doe, asked Mickey about holding a position of power and trust as a priest.

Mickey argued parishioners don't see priests that way.

"That seems to be a blanket kind of thing that most people might think, but really people don't look at priests that way," he said. "I guess not everybody has that priest-on-a-pedestal kind of idea - just from my own experience."

There were other complaints about Mickey.

The mother of a former student at St. Benedict High School called one of the DRB members in 2006, saying Mickey had given her 15-year-old son a ride home from school in 1997. During the ride, the teen said Mickey talked about the confession of a boy who couldn't stop masturbating. The teen was upset and told his mother he never wanted to see Mickey again.

When the Chambers twins filed their lawsuit against Mickey in 2004, the woman told St. Francis pastor John MacArthur of the incident.

Two years later, the DRB member urged the woman to call a diocesan official and formally report the incident. She did but the official she was referred to told her he only provided counseling and wouldn't take down any of the details to pass on to the proper person.

"Board members discussed how the above information demonstrates our processes need further revision," read the minutes of the July 2006 DRB meeting. The discussion continued about what were described as "substantial deficits in the current process for handling claims."

Thou shalt not

A year later, the DRB recommended restricting Mickey's ministry. No ministry involving youth. No hearing children's confessions. And "Father Mickey be instructed not to set foot on any school property."

The board also concluded his remarks to the boy he gave a lift "certainly appears to be grooming behavior calculated to initiate sexual conversation."

As the board talked it over and approved a resolution urging some new policies, the board members asked if there were any other allegations they hadn't been told about. That's when they learned the Rev. William Kantner had been accused by a seminarian under his supervision and investigated by former District Attorney General John Pierotti.

"Apparently the diocese believed the information had been previously provided to the board," the meeting minutes read.

The board voted to open a new investigation into Kantner.

DRB member Pat Lawler, according to the meeting minutes, "raised concerns that ... (Pierotti) should probe more deeply in investigating these allegations."

The board voted to hire a private investigation firm to work with Pierotti and review any findings.

The concerns continued into an "executive session" that led to the board requesting a meeting with Steib. There is no word in that or other meeting minutes about whether there was such a gathering.

The Diocesan Review Board sent its first set of findings and recommendations on an accused priest to Steib in 2004.

The investigation into the allegations made in 2002 against the Rev. Paul St. Charles began before the formation of the review board. A man claimed St. Charles abused him when he was a teenager in the late 1970s or early 1980s in Memphis.

St. Charles contested the allegations with an attorney. He made his case via a conference call from Nashville.

His corroborating witnesses included his uncle, a deacon whom St. Charles has sponsored and the father of a former priest. All remembered the man complaining in the early 1980s of being sexually abused by St. Charles.

St. Charles called a woman he had worked with at the parish as a witness who would back him up. When she talked to the DRB she told the board that her nephew had been abused by St. Charles too.

"She didn't do him any good, did she?" Smith asked Buchignani.

"No, not at all. Not at all," Buchignani replied.

As the DRB investigated, two other allegations against St. Charles also surfaced.

St. Charles' written presentation claimed he was a victim of mistaken identity and unfounded assumptions several times during his decades in Memphis. He also dished some dirt of his own about other priests.

He claimed he was assigned to St. John because another priest named Paul had been "removed ... for conduct unbecoming a cleric."

"Apparently there was a similarity in appearance because many people mistook me to be (him)," St. Charles wrote in an August 2005 presentation. "I was even accused by someone who thought I was (him)."

St. Charles suffered from an undisclosed "neuromuscular disease" that confined him to a wheelchair. In the mid-1960s, St. Charles said, he walked with a limp.

"Some people accused me of being intoxicated when in fact I didn't consume alcoholic beverages," St. Charles wrote. "The emotional scars were great. When people got to know me, they often apologized for the first impression they had of me."

St. Charles also wrote of seeing a woman in a negligee coming from the bedroom of an unnamed pastor at St. John in 1970 and of being beaten by "Priest A."

He claimed Priest A began spreading rumors that St. Charles was gay, rumors St. Charles said were already spreading.

The rumors continued, he said, two assignments later when he became associate pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows church in Frayser. Priests didn't teach at the OLS grade school but did teach classes once a week for students attending public high schools.

During his first session with one of those classes, St. Charles said he intercepted a note two of the students were passing that read, "I hear this priest is gay. You guys better watch out." St. Charles said he dealt with the rumors in a homily the next Sunday.

"In my homily, I simply explained the physical effects the disease had on me and I asked that they give me the opportunity to prove myself," he wrote.

St. Charles had come to Memphis in the early 1960s. He was the first Youth Services director when the Diocese of Memphis formed in 1971. He held the post for two years. After that he was the moderator of Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) groups at several Memphis parishes where the numbers of teens involved swelled under his leadership.

St. Charles was lauded nationally for his work with teens.

The tenure at OLS ended abruptly. St. Charles was transferred to become pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in Union City, replacing a priest St. Charles said and Diocesan officials confirmed had gotten married and moved his new wife and her two children into the church rectory.

St. Charles returned to Memphis in 1980 as pastor of Church of the Ascension in Raleigh. He claimed he was threatened there because of recurring rumors about his sexual orientation.

As St. Charles sought permission to retire in 1985, he was confronted by then-Bishop Francis Stafford and Buchignani. St. Charles said he denied the allegations of "sexual orgies at the rectory" and that Buchignani did most of the talking.

"To be honest, I tuned him out," St. Charles wrote. "When he finished, I looked the bishop in the eye and said, ‘You have my written request to retire. If you would like, I'll be happy to rewrite it. May I go home to Nashville?'"

St. Charles retired.

Steib suspended the priestly duties of St. Charles in 2004. He directed St. Charles to spend the rest of his life "in penance and prayer." St. Charles remained vocal about his innocence. He died in late 2009.

Out of the sunlight

Buchignani became vicar general a month after John Doe told his mother everything.

Steib designated Buchignani in 2003 to give the Memphis diocesan response for the 2004 John Jay Study, intended to be a comprehensive look at the extent of the child sexual abuse problem in the church.

It was also a secretive report. In preparing it, Buchignani said he followed instructions from John Jay to destroy anything used to compile the facts. He went further and destroyed copies he made of the report he sent to John Jay.

"It was super confidential. I really saw no value in saving those reports, and the fact of all the instructions we received and not saving anything at all, not even notes or handwritten notes. ... Just seemed that was the right thing to do."

Among the omissions in the report was a priest who had left Memphis in 1968 but had been a thorn in the side of all four of the bishops who would lead the Diocese of Memphis.

The Catholic Archbishop of Baltimore, Cardinal William Keeler, took a controversial leap in 2002 when he went public with a list of priests accused of child sexual abuse.

One of the names was Walter Emala, accused there in 1975. The first civil lawsuits in Memphis were two years away. So, few here noticed Emala's name and him being listed as a priest under the direction of the Diocese of Memphis.

The newly released court files identify him only as "Priest 2."

Emala left Memphis in 1968, a stormy exit that came after a trail of paperwork dating to December 1959 when Emala got a handwritten letter from Bishop William Adrian, head of the Catholic Diocese of Nashville, which then included Memphis. It is the earliest church document in the file.

"As things stand now, we cannot entrust you with another pastorate in the diocese unless you radically change," Adrian wrote. "And I am quite convinced that no pastor will accept you as an assistant except under command and that I do not want to do."

Adrian complained that since Emala left his previous assignment the church had to pay more than $5,000 in bills.

"Also, your episode with that boy you were keeping around there was a scandal to many of your people - all without permission," Adrian wrote.

Seven years later, Emala was an associate pastor at St. Ann in Bartlett. The pastor, Leonard Oglesby, and the Rev. Patrick J. Lynch, director of vocations for the diocese, wrote a letter to Joseph Durick, then apostolic administrator for the diocese and in a few years to come Adrian's successor as bishop.

Oglesby and Lynch told Durick that they believed Emala had a "mental imbalance."

"He seems to have an abnormal obsession regarding matters of (students') sex development and behavior. ... Father (Emala) takes young men on trips and insists on sleeping with them, oftentimes in the nude," they wrote. "In these times, he tried to handle them in a sexual way."

They also said Emala would take boys to a room for examination and weighing and try to touch them. He would also take them to a weighlifting room where he insisted they work out in the nude.

The parents of two of the boys had complained and were threatening to go to authorities.

Three months later, Oglesby wrote again to Durick after again confronting Emala.

"His reply was that neither you nor I would tell him what to do or when to leave and that he would leave when and if he got ready to," Oglesby wrote. "Specifically, he has defiantly continued associations here with certain boys of sixth and seventh grade level that I consider imprudent, impractical and unwise for both Father and the boys."

With no action from the diocese, Oglesby said he had advised the parents of three boys to keep their children away from Emala.

A month later, in April 1968, Durick wrote Emala offering two choices - take an "extended leave of absence," leaving Tennessee and keeping his priestly duties or retire as a priest from the diocese and leave Tennessee.

He also threatened to suspend him from all priestly duties anywhere if Emala didn't choose one of the two.

Emala took a leave of absence. He went to Baltimore. It was an area he knew well.

Emala was chaplain emeritus of the Baltimore County Volunteer Firemen's Association. He joined the fire service in March 1947.

When the Diocese of Memphis was formed from the Diocese of Nashville in 1971, the first bishop, Carroll T. Dozier, took Emala on as a priest. Dozier didn't know Emala, writing years later, "I know him least of all."

But Dozier had helped Emala get some kind of privileges in Baltimore.

When Emala was accused in 1975, the archdiocese ordered Emala to leave the area that June. His priestly privileges were revoked and he was ordered back to Memphis. Emala wanted to go to a parish in Wilmington, Del. But the diocese wouldn't take him without a letter of recommendation from Dozier.

"I made a mistake in the division of the diocese in accepting (Emala) as a member of the Diocese of Memphis," Dozier wrote in an August 1975 letter to Monsignor Paul J. Schierse of the Wilmington diocese. He said it had been at Durick's suggestion.

"I am unable from this point of view to judge the validity of the event and I only know what (Wilmington) Monsignor (Francis X.) Murphy has confided in me concerning him," Dozier wrote of the allegation. "I would not hurt a priest for anything, and would be supportive of whatever decision you make."

Dozier's letter of recommendation for Emala followed that November.

Christian charity

Thirty years later, in his deposition, Buchignani said he didn't know how much Dozier knew about the 1975 allegation.

"I will say this, Bishop Dozier was never a man involved in details."

Lawyer Smith pressed Buchignani on what he termed Emala's problem with "pedophilia."

"I'm not sure we are dealing with pedophilia," Buchignani replied.

"And also, too, back in 1975, society in general and certainly the church - in fact, as I read some of these letters and see how things operated, obviously back in 1975 there was a whole different understanding than what it is today. See you are saying pedophilia. Maybe I'm being exact. To me pedophilia is small kids."

The distinction is one that has endured for decades among diocesan leaders. It is their rationale for not reporting any allegations of abuse to police, the district attorney general or state children's services officials.

The theory suffered a crucial blow in 2005 when District Attorney General Bill Gibbons said state law required the diocese to report any child sexual abuse regardless of the age of the child.

Steib had relied on a different opinion from diocesan attorneys. They repeatedly said the diocese did not have to and would not report abuse allegations involving children 13 to 18 years old.

Diocesan spokesman John Geaney in 2005 told the Commercial Appeal such allegations were "unreportable crimes" because children 13 and up weren't legally under the control of a priest.

Even when the Diocesan Review Board urged Steib to report Duran's abuse six years after the fact, the attorneys stuck with their opinion and Steib did as well.

Even after the Diocese agreed to provide the names of priests accused in the past and future to Gibbons' office in 2005, it was with the stipulation that the church didn't believe it was required to.

By the time of the meetings with prosecutors in 2005, Emala was still sending overdue bills to the Diocese of Memphis for payment and the diocese was still paying them.

In 2004, Emala got a letter from the Rev. J. Michael McFadden, secretary for clergy and religious life at the Diocese of Harrisburg, Pa. McFadden said Emala was one of several priests accused of "some manner of sexual misconduct with minors" while on assignment in Mount Carmel, Pa.

"Because of your age and health, and because you are not a priest of this diocese or serving in this diocese, we have not pursued any of these complaints with you," McFadden continued.

But prosecutors in Northumberland County did, and because Emala wasn't in that jurisdiction, the clock on the statute of limitations for filing criminal charges was not running. There was a warrant for Emala's arrest.

"In order to avoid scandal and to avoid exposing you to continued accusation and possible criminal investigation, it is important that you not be present at any time within the territory of the Diocese of Harrisburg," McFadden wrote as he relayed orders he said came from Bishop Nicholas C. Dattilo. "Avoid entry into the Diocese of Harrisburg unless absolutely essential for personal reasons, and that you never assume residence - even temporarily - within the Diocese of Harrisburg. Should you find it absolutely necessary to enter the territory of this diocese, please inform me before doing so."

A copy of the letter was sent to Deacon Charles Wells, chancellor of the Diocese of Memphis. Wells was also getting reports that Emala had been in Memphis and had attempted to celebrate Mass despite the ban on his performing any priestly duties.

Three months later, in March of 2004, the Memphis diocese got a bill for $150 from Cheaspeake Mini Storage in Baltimore, which had a lien against Emala's storage space. Wells had the bill paid.

At Steib's deposition, Smith asked, "Does it cause you concern that people under your authority have been providing church charity to a sexual abuser?"

"I wouldn't characterize it that way because I don't know their reason for doing it or whether they did or how much," Steib responded. "I can only look at it from what, you know, the reason why we were doing it. ... It was more ... to help a person who, quote, needed the help."

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