Miss. bishop, sued with Law, resigns

Associated Press/January 4, 2003

Vatican City -- Pope John Paul II has accepted the resignation of Bishop William Houck of the Catholic Diocese of Jackson, Miss., for reasons of age, the Vatican said yesterday.

Houck will be 77 in June. The Vatican requires bishops to offer their resignation when they turn 75, and it is up to the pope to accept or ask the bishop to stay on.

The Jackson Diocese was recently slapped with two lawsuits seeking a total of $75 million in connection with the clergy sexual abuse scandal. Houck said yesterday that he did not believe the allegations had anything to do with the Vatican's acceptance of his resignation. He said at a press conference in Jackson that he had offered his resignation two years ago, before the lawsuits were launched.

The Vatican said the pope has named Monsignor Joseph N. Latino, currently vicar general of the Houma-Thibodaux diocese in Louisiana, as the new bishop of Jackson.

In June, three brothers filed a $48 million lawsuit against the Jackson Diocese, accusing it of having ignored sexual abuse by a priest they say took place between 1969-74, when the boys were about 5 to 14 years old.

The suit named the diocese as well as clergymen, including Houck and the former vicar general of the diocese, Cardinal Bernard F. Law, accusing them of civil contempt and fraud in failing to report the alleged abuse. Law resigned last month as head of the Boston Archdiocese.

Brothers Kenneth, Thomas, and Francis Morrison charge that the abuse continued after the allegations were reported to Law. Houck was named in the suit in his role as head of the diocese.

The Jackson Diocese has called the allegations of a coverup vague and a matter of conjecture.

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