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VOL. 122 | NO. 159 | Thursday, August 23, 2007

Catholic Diocese Settles Lawsuits

By Bill Dries

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The Catholic Diocese of Memphis has settled three lawsuits alleging child sexual abuse by two priests. Confirmation of the settlements and dismissals last month come a week after two new lawsuits were filed alleging a fourth instance of child sexual abuse by a priest named in three other lawsuits and the rape of an adult by another priest.

The Shelby County Circuit Court suit filed in July 2004 by Blain and Blair Chambers against Father Richard Mickey was the first child sexual abuse claim of its kind against a priest in a Memphis court. The twin brothers claimed repressed memories of abuse by Mickey in the 1980s while they were students at Bishop Byrne High School and Mickey was a counselor at the school. He later became a priest.

"It was a settlement on a confidential basis," said B.J. Wade, attorney for the Chambers brothers. "The matter was resolved between the parties based upon their agreement."

Neither Wade nor Father John Geaney, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Memphis, would disclose terms of the settlement. Geaney and Wade said the confidentiality agreement was at the request of the brothers, who now live in Montana.

"We respect confidentiality when requested by the plaintiff," Geaney said. "This has been settled without any admission of guilt."

Under investigation

Mickey resigned as pastor of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Jackson, Tenn., in August 2006 citing, in part, a need to prepare for what was then expected to be a trial of the lawsuit. At the time Geaney said Mickey would have no "pastoral or public ministry duties."

The decision came two months after depositions were made part of the case file in which another man said he and Mickey were a "dating couple" in the late 1980s. At the time, the man was a senior at Memphis Catholic High School and Mickey was a priest who taught at the school.

When the lawsuit was filed, diocesan officials suspended Mickey pending an internal investigation that later cleared him of any wrongdoing. It was an investigation the Chambers brothers did not participate in.

Mickey was welcomed back to his parish in Jackson in February 2005 with a Mass celebrated by Memphis Catholic Bishop J. Terry Steib. The Diocese of Memphis includes not only Memphis but all of West Tennessee.

Four allegations

Richard Ginther, who filed a lawsuit Aug. 16 in Circuit Court, is the fourth man who has alleged child sexual abuse by Father Paul W. St. Charles during the 1970s.

At the time St. Charles was a moderator of parish chapters of the Catholic Youth Organization and was, at one time, moderator of youth programs for the entire diocese of Memphis. Ginther, who turned 50 this month, alleges in the lawsuit that repressed memories of abuse surfaced in 2006.

The other three lawsuits against St. Charles, all filed within the last two years, also involve repressed memories that allegedly surfaced decades later. Lawsuits filed by brothers Henry and Gregory Baker against St. Charles were settled last month.

St. Charles was first named publicly by church leaders in 2004 when Steib announced he had suspended St. Charles from all priestly duties. He cited the conclusion of a diocesan review board that recommended the action because it was "more likely than not" that St. Charles had abused a teenager in the 1970s.

That teenager complained to church leaders in 2002. He is not one of the four men who have filed lawsuits against St. Charles and the diocese.

Ginther said the abuse began in 1973 when he was a 15-year-old altar boy at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in Frayser.

"St. Charles did sexually batter, assault, molest (and) abuse," Ginther said in the lawsuit. That included trips to the old Frayser Drive-In theater where Ginther alleges St. Charles would also give him whiskey.

"Some older altar boys at Our Lady of Sorrows Church took money collected in the offering and plaintiff, while not involved in the theft of the offering, was told that he had to go to the drive-in theater as part of his redemption for the theft," the lawsuit reads.

Ginther's memories of the abuse prompted him to enter drug and alcohol rehabilitation as well as get sexual abuse counseling at a veterans' administration hospital, according to the lawsuit.

Also named as defendants in the lawsuit are the Catholic Diocese of Memphis and Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church. The lawsuit does not seek a specific amount of damages.

Adult case

A woman identified only as "Jane Doe 4" accused Father Gregory Salata of sexually abusing and raping her five years ago when she was 28. She had known Salata since she was a high school senior and he was a seminarian leading her confirmation class at St. Louis parish, according to the lawsuit filed Aug. 15 in Circuit Court.

Salata, who also was assigned to St. Paul, St. Ann Bartlett and most recently the Catholic Campus Ministry at the University of Memphis, performed her wedding ceremony.

The lawsuit claims Salata began abusing her in 2002 when he "seized upon Jane's trust and confidence in him and sexually abused Jane on several occasions."

By August of that year, the abuse "culminated ... when he raped Jane."

The woman alleges in the lawsuit that she cooperated in a diocesan investigation of Salata earlier this year in which she claimed Salata admitted the rape. She sought the statements of any others who cooperated but that church officials denied her request, according to the lawsuit.

"To date, the diocese still has never announced to its parishioners the serious allegations it has received about Father Salata's dangerous sexual propensities," the lawsuit reads.

Salata has been "removed from the ministry," Geaney said this week.

When asked if there were other similar allegations that might have prompted the investigation described in the lawsuit and his removal, Geaney said, "Because this is an ongoing legal situation, I'm not at liberty to comment on that."

The Catholic Diocese is the defendant in the lawsuit. Salata is named but is not a defendant.

The diocese settled in June three Jane Doe civil suits targeting Father Joseph Nguyen's actions as a priest in the 1990s. Each lawsuit was settled for $100,000 not counting the cost of counseling. The church admitted no wrongdoing as part of the settlement.

Members of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, will discuss the settlement of six child sex abuse complaints against two Catholic priests and the Memphis diocese at a sidewalk news conference today. It takes place at 10:30 a.m. across the street from the Shelby County Courthouse at the corner of Adams Avenue and Second Street.

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