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VOL. 125 | NO. 68 | Thursday, April 8, 2010

2004 Accusation Not Beginning of Local Abuse Claims

By Bill Dries

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When an 18-year-old man filed a John Doe lawsuit in Shelby County Circuit Court in 2004 accusing the Rev. Juan Carlos Duran of sexually abusing him four years earlier, it was a milestone.

It was one of the first times a Catholic priest in Memphis had been publicly and formally accused of child sexual abuse.

But it wasn’t the first time Catholic church leaders had heard such allegations.

Recently released records from the lawsuit, settled in 2009, show all four bishops in the nearly 40-year history of the Catholic Diocese of Memphis had dealt with allegations of child sexual abuse.

They did so by never reporting the alleged abuse to authorities even when some of the priests admitted wrongdoing. And they never told parishioners of the danger as the priests moved to other parishes in the city and across the country.

The earliest accusation documented in the Duran court case files is from 1959 and involves a priest the Diocese of Memphis was still paying in 2004.

The priest is identified in the court records and transcripts of depositions as Priest No. 2. He is the Rev. Walter Emala, who died in February 2008 in the Baltimore area.

The details about him correspond to information released in the Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore in 2002. Emala was accused there of child sexual abuse in 1975, according to the list of accused priests made public by Baltimore’s archbishop.

By 1975, Emala had been gone from Memphis for six years. But he was still the responsibility of the Diocese of Memphis, which had been formed from the original Diocese of Nashville in 1971.

The first nine letters with the earliest dates in the documents the diocese turned over in the Duran case deal with Emala. The nine letters date from December 1959 to November 1977.

The first is a handwritten letter to Emala from Bishop William Adrian, head of the Catholic Diocese of Nashville, which in 1959 included Memphis.

“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 has had to pay bills of more than $5,000.

“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 their 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 handled them in a sexual way.”

They also said Emala would take boys to a room for examination and weighing and try to touch them, as well as take them to a weightlifting room where he also insisted the boys work out in the nude.

The parents of two of the boys 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 ...”

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 pick one of the two.

Emala took a leave of absence. He went to Baltimore.

More accusations followed Emala in Baltimore into the mid-1980s.

As late as 2004, Emala was a subject of concern because he was reportedly trying to celebrate a private Mass in Memphis even though his priestly duties had been suspended. And diocesan officials here learned there was a warrant for his arrest in Pennsylvania that same year.

But during the tenure of current Memphis Bishop J. Terry Steib, the diocese also provided Emala with money for living expenses on several occasions.

“Does it cause you concern that people under your authority have been providing church charity to a sexual abuser?” asked Gary K. Smith, the attorney for John Doe, during Steib’s 2006 deposition.

“I would not characterize it that way because I don’t know their reason for doing it or whether they did and how much,” Steib replied. “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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