Clergy sexual abuse victims ask Redemptorists to drop defense of defrocked priest
A group representing victims of clergy sexual abuse stood outside the federal courthouse in New Orleans on Wednesday, calling on the Catholic church to accept legal responsibility in a case involving a priest long ago defrocked for molesting children.
Charles Bishop, an accuser of former priest Cristoff Joseph Springer, a defrocked priest living in Pearl River, talks about being molested as a child.
He was outside the federal courthouse in New Orleans to draw attention to a Thursday hearing.
Barbara Dorris, of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, urged the church to step away from Christoff Springer, who served in the New Orleans area before moving to the Baton Rouge area in 1973.
She also urged any silent victims of Springer, also known as Christopher Springer, to come forward and seek help.
News reports on Springer’s career indicated he worked at Our Lady of Lourdes in Slidell and the former St. Alphonsus parish in New Orleans, but that could not be immediately confirmed.
Houston attorney Felecia Peavy said Springer has acknowledged molesting more than 30 children.
She provided documents indicating that the Vatican defrocked Springer in 1990 because of his abuse of children.
Peavy represents 19 victims of Springer and has reached settlements with the Diocese of Baton Rouge in nine cases in state court.
The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments Thursday in which Peavy, representing Charles Bishop, another Springer victim, will argue that a lower court erred in issuing a summary judgment in favor of Springer and his Redemptorist superiors.
Bishop is also challenging the Redemptorists’ First Amendment argument that asking courts to decide a priest’s duty to his congregants excessively involves the courts in church business, Peavy said.
The Redemptorists’ attorney, Don Richard, was not available for comment.
Bishop, 43, who works in construction in Ocala, Fla., said Springer molested him and others in the Baton Rouge area in the late 1970s, beginning when he was 9.
Bishop said he is still in counseling.
“He ruins lives,” he said of Springer.
Dorris said that in the federal case, the Redemptorist order has no business defending itself from the consequences of Springer’s actions.
“This is criminal activity,” she said.
Court documents describe Springer, now 85, as a New Orleans native.
He reportedly lives in retirement outside New Orleans.
His last telephone number is disconnected.
Once-accused priest now leads diocese inquiries into sex abuse
The Catholic official who oversees sex abuse complaints against priests in the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese, has himself been accused of past sexual improprieties.
A Kansas City man wrote the bishop of the diocese four years ago, alleging sexual harassment in 1984 by the Rev. Robert Murphy, a priest who is now vicar general.
Brian Heydon, a licensed professional counselor, said Murphy exposed himself and propositioned him as a young man during a meeting at St. Catherine’s rectory, where Murphy then lived.
The diocese has said Heydon’s claims are unfounded.
Murphy, now a monsignor, has recently come under fire for the way he handled the case of a priest charged last month with possessing child pornography.
Murphy, who was named vicar general when Robert Finn took over as bishop in 2005, handles the diocese’s sex abuse complaints against priests and is on a diocesan review board that assesses allegations against priests and makes recommendations to the bishop.
Heydon first raised the issue in 2007 and contacted The Kansas City Star. The newspaper did not publish the story at his request out of concern for his privacy.
Heydon said he has now decided to come forward.
“In light of recent reports detailing the continued cover-up of abuse in this diocese, I feel that I can no longer in good conscience keep silent,” Heydon said.
Rebecca Summers, the diocese’s spokeswoman, confirmed in 2007 that Heydon had written to Bishop Finn. She said Finn conducted an internal investigation into Heydon’s allegations and responded in a letter to Heydon.
In Finn’s May 4, 2007, letter, which Heydon provided to The Star, Finn said the allegations were unsubstantiated.
“This accusation has given rise to serious discussions and considerations,” Finn wrote in the letter, which Heydon received three weeks after writing to Finn.
“Your claims about events 23 years ago are detailed and full of emotion. Monsignor Murphy firmly denies any sexual impropriety or solicitation and does not remember the circumstances of his meetings with you as you described them.
“As troubling as these accusations are, I cannot conclude that they are compelling in their most serious claims.”
Summers said at the time, and on Wednesday, that there would be no further response to The Star from the diocese or from Murphy.
“Bishop Finn’s letter will serve as our comment,” she said.
Heydon, now 50, said he was stunned at the time by Finn’s response to his letter.
“I was appalled,” he said. “Bishop Finn offered not healing but rather dismissal, refute and complete invalidation, suggesting that my experience was not compelling.”
Summers told The Star at the time she believed the bishop had turned over Heydon’s letter to the diocese’s review board. But it’s unclear how the letter got to the board.
Heydon thinks the review board wasn’t contacted by the bishop.
He said Leslie Guillot, the diocese’s victim advocate on the board, called him and said she received a copy of his letter to Finn, not from the bishop but from someone at the diocese who was concerned that the bishop wasn’t following through.
“She told me that neither the bishop nor the vicar general had informed her of my letter,” he said. She said, though, that the board would want to talk to him about his claims.
Heydon, stung by Finn’s letter, chose not to meet with the review board at the time. He said he would consider it now.
Guillot, who is still the victim advocate and is on the review board, referred questions on Wednesday to review board chairman Jim Caccamo.
Caccamo said Wednesday that he had seen Heydon’s letter to Finn — and remembered Heydon’s claims from 2007, when he was already on the board — but that the review board would not have jurisdiction in such a complaint.
“The review board’s charge is sexual abuse of minors,” he said, “so other than to know about it, which I do, it doesn’t go to the review board.”
Caccamo said he had no idea where Heydon could go to address his concerns.
“I simply don’t know,” he said. “It’s a tough one.”
He added, however, “I would be pleased to meet with him, and I did ask the person who gave me his letters to call him and tell him that if he’d like to talk about it I’d be glad to talk to him. The guy obviously must be hurting.”
Summers agreed that the board is designed to address complaints by minors, not adults. In 2007, however, she told The Star that one previous case involving an adult had been referred to the board.
At the time, Murphy was on a response team that investigated abuse allegations and prepared reports for the review board. He now is on the review board itself.
Murphy has been prominent in the case of the Rev. Shawn Ratigan.
Ratigan, 45, of Kansas City, North, was charged last month with three counts of possessing child pornography — photographs taken around churches and schools where he had worked.
He pleaded not guilty to those charges in Clay County court and remains in custody on $200,000 bond.
After Ratigan’s arrest, it was revealed that the principal of St. Patrick School in Kansas City, North, had given diocesan officials a memo more than a year ago detailing concerns teachers and parents had about Ratigan’s interactions with children.
Finn told reporters that Murphy briefed him about the memo at the time but that he did not ask to read it.
“Monsignor Murphy told me that he had thoroughly discussed these concerns with Shawn Ratigan and how he was to change his behavior,” Finn said. “Shawn Ratigan expressed the willingness and the desire to make these changes.”
Finn said that when he finally read the memo recently, “I was ashamed at the fact we had not done enough to respond to that.”
In his six-page letter to the bishop in 2007, Heydon, who grew up in Catholic schools, said he first contacted Murphy in the summer of 1984 about his desire to become a priest.
Heydon wrote that he sought counseling from Murphy, who was director of vocations for the diocese at the time.
Heydon wrote that when he was 23 he met with Murphy at a restaurant on the Country Club Plaza.
But Heydon wrote the two weren’t able to discuss vocations because Murphy became drunk.
The two agreed to meet at a later date, Heydon said, and he drove home. Murphy followed him, he wrote.
“When I drove to my house and was greeted by the drunken Father Murphy standing in my yard, I asked what he was doing,” Heydon wrote in the letter to Finn.
“His response was that, ‘the evening has been so nice that I just didn’t want it to end.’ It did end there though, as I suggested he go home, which he did.”
Heydon wrote that he met Murphy for dinner a few weeks later. After dinner, he said, Murphy suggested they go to the rectory of St. Catherine’s parish, where he lived, to get Heydon some information on priestly formation.
At the rectory, Heydon said Murphy brought him one beer after another, which he could not finish. Then he wrote that Murphy commented on the heat and excused himself, returning in a pair of gym shorts and a tank top.
“Upon sitting down, Father Murphy proceeded to widely open his legs,” Heydon wrote, exposing himself and propositioning him in vulgar terms.
“Suffering a mixture of disbelief, emotional numbing, anger, sadness and complete confusion, I got up and hurried out of the room,” Heydon wrote.
“My encounter with Father Murphy was the most outrageous experience I’ve ever had with anyone in my life…,” Heydon continued. “His meeting with me was a planned, orchestrated sexual encounter. I was genuine in my intent to discuss vocations. He never even asked me one question about myself.”
Heydon said he wrote that letter after seeing Murphy interviewed on TV and quoted in newspaper articles in April 2007 about a $60,000 lawsuit the diocese had settled with a man who alleged abuse by two priests. He couldn’t keep quiet any longer, he said.
“A shocked, apologetic Monsignor Murphy, while presenting the Diocese’s official position of denying any knowledge or culpability regarding ‘alleged’ acts … encourages ‘anyone who has seen or suffered sexual abuse by anyone in the church to come forward so that we can begin the healing process,’” he said in his letter.
“It was a directive that I could not ignore.”
Heydon said he sent copies of his letter in 2007 to several top Catholic officials; the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; former Bishop Raymond Boland; the Rev. Benedict Neenan, president and rector of Conception Seminary College; and the Rev. Thomas Doyle, a priest who has been outspoken about clergy sex abuse.
Only Doyle could be reached for comment Wednesday. He said he didn’t recall the letter but said it was possible he’d received it.
Heydon in his letter told Finn he would be monitoring the diocese’s response.
“I am watching in sincere hope that this diocese will do the right thing,” he wrote, adding that he would inform others “that the Vicar General is inappropriate at best, and at worst a continuation of the coverup.”
In the letter responding to Heydon, Finn said the allegations did not match Murphy’s known past.
“The suggestion that he was repeatedly inebriated, and that he used strong vulgar language or erupted in anger, does not square with others’ life-long knowledge of this priest,” Finn wrote.
Heydon told Finn in his letter that it was the second time he’d contacted the diocese about Murphy.
Heydon told Finn that he wrote to Boland in 2002 with complaints but did not specifically name Murphy.
Summers told The Star in 2007 that she had talked to Boland about Heydon’s letter.
“He remembered it,” she said. “But he clearly said, ‘Without being given names, there’s very little I could do with this.’ ”
David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said Wednesday he was proud of Heydon for stepping forward.
“Brian is about as credible as they come, and it’s heartbreaking that church officials conveniently deemed his abuse report unsubstantiated,” Clohessy said.
“Finn owes it to Brian, parents, victims and his flock to explain how and why he and his staff reached this reckless conclusion.
“This case shows, once again, that no institution can police itself, especially not a rigid, ancient, powerful, secretive monarchy like the Catholic church.”
Doyle, the Dominican priest and canon lawyer who Heydon said was among those who received his 2007 letter, said Wednesday that Murphy should not be serving on the review board.
“It can’t be independent if he’s on the board,” Doyle said. “He’s the vicar general. And if there’s been an accusation against him, he should certainly recuse himself. But he shouldn’t be on the board at all because of his position.”
Heydon, now a psychotherapist, said he is not seeking legal action against the diocese. What he wants, he said, is for Finn and Murphy to step down.
“I feel that the people of our diocese deserve better than these two men,” he said. “Our children deserve better. Their safety is at stake.”