Jesuit, Dallas Diocese Settles Clergy Sex Abuse Lawsuit

It’s been several years since the first suit was filed accusing priests at Jesuit Preparatory of sexual abuse in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but the lawsuit has been settled, attorneys representing the plaintiffs announced Wednesday.

The suit included Jesuit College Preparatory School, Jesuits USA Central and Southern Province, and the Catholic Diocese, and was filed on behalf of nine plaintiffs.

“All I really wanted was to be heard,” plaintiff Michael Pedevilla said in a joint statement sent from his attorneys, the plaintiffs, the diocese, the Jesuit order, and Jesuit Preparatory. “Now, finally, I can begin to heal.”

The Dallas Morning News reported that a letter was sent to the local Jesuit community Wednesday from school president Mike Earsing, who said he believed the nine men who accused priests of sexual abuse.

“While none of us wanted to believe that any of the priests at our school could inflict such heinous injury, the fact is, a few did,” Earsing wrote in the letter.

“I have spoken with each of these men,” he said in the joint statement. “After listening as they told me what happened and how their lives have been affected, I believe them. I communicated to each of them my sorrow, my own spirit of disconsolation, and an apology.”

One of the first suits was filed in 2019 by a 1983 graduate who named the Rev. Patrick Koch as the alleged abuser. Koch was also named on a list the Dallas Diocese released in 2018 of priests who were “credibly accused” of sexually abusing children. Koch never faced criminal charges and died in 2006.

The lawsuit alleged that the church, school, and the Jesuit order “failed to protect the student.”

“Patrick Koch was the sexual abuser, but he did not and could not have acted alone,” read the lawsuit. “He was in the position to abuse [the victim] because of the actions of the defendants in this case and their cover-up of the dangers at the school, the danger of Patrick Koch, and the systemic crisis. [Jesuit] created and fostered a community where abuse would occur and the school did nothing to prevent the problem – despite its obviousness.”

Additional former students joined the suit, and eventually, six priests were named: Jesuit priests Donald Dickerson (a former teacher and administrator, who is now deceased), Vincent Malatesta (a teacher and counselor who was removed from the Jesuit order 20 years ago), Koch, Benjamine Smylie (a teacher who died in 2004), and Peter Callery (a former teacher and coach who is still under investigation). Another, Robert Crisp, was a priest with the Dallas Diocese.

In 2018, the UCS Province released a list of members and former members who had been credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors. The next month, the Dallas Diocese released its own list. All six priests listed in the lawsuit are present on those lists.

Callery remains the sole current Jesuit among the accused and denies the allegations, which were made by two of the plaintiffs.

“Notably, the school and the UCS Province have had in place, for many years, safe-environment, and zero-tolerance policies,” the statement pointed out. “Jesuit Dallas has had no other credible reports of sexual abuse of any kind involving an adult abusing a minor in decades, other than lawsuits filed since 2019 which involve allegations from more than 35 years ago.”

The settlement, the statement said, was the result of dialogue guided by the lawyers working on the case – Charla Aldous and Brent Walker, who represented the plaintiffs; Jesuit alumn and attorney Tom Melsheimer, who represented Jesuit Preparatory, and Lee Taft, a former plaintiff’s attorney and Harvard Divinity School graduate who also worked on the legal settlement regarding the “fake drug scandal” with the Dallas police.

Melsheimer said he collaborated with Earsing to find a solution “that best reflects values central to the school’s mission.”

“We could have chosen an adversarial path of litigation and ultimately succeeded. But our motto is ‘Men for Others,'” Melsheimer said. “I just knew that the values inherent in that motto, which we share with those who had been abused many years ago, would lead us on a path to doing some good for these men, our alumni brothers. We wanted to live our values.”

The attorneys said the financial compensation is part of the agreement, it is confidential. The bulk of the resolution, they said, is reflective of the plaintiffs’ belief “that something positive could be built,” with more emphasis placed on measures that recognize and “empathize with past victims,” and addressing plans to prevent future abuse.

“This is the end of a long, sometimes contentious, and painful journey for my clients,” Aldous said. “We are pleased that defendants responded by being part of the solution.”

“Our clients feel that they could not have received greater justice,” Walker added.

Jesuit has agreed to create a memorial dedicated to victims of sexual abuse involving religious leaders. The school also agreed to continue its policies and procedures designed to prevent abuse from occurring and to provide a pathway for reporting any instances of sexual misconduct, including:

  • Requiring school employees to complete an annual safe environment program at the school, focused on maintaining appropriate relationships with minors;
  • Requiring staff, students, and parents to pledge to report reasonable suspicion of sexual misconduct by faculty, staff, or other adult members of the Jesuit community;
  • Comprehensive screening of all new staff members;
  • Promptly notifying law enforcement when sexual abuse of a minor is reported.

Jesuit will also provide a third-party contact on its website that will allow individuals to report any concerns regarding safety in the school or instances of sexual abuse. Initially, the statement said, Taft will be that contact.

“In these cases, it is often more about healing, ending isolation, and restoring community than it is about money,” Taft said. “I hope this resolution can serve as a template where the abused and religious organizations are seeking a productive path forward.”

“I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to speak with several of the abuse survivors of this case in order to address the need for healing and accountability, a process that has a sense of justice, understanding, and compassion,” said Bishop Edward J. Burns.  “The Diocese of Dallas remains vigilant in our efforts to provide the safest environment possible to all we serve.  I pray for continued healing for these men and all victims of abuse.”

The Diocese has agreed to create enhanced victim-centered reporting of sexual abuse, including a dedicated email address ([email protected]), monitoring online abuse claims, expanding its review board tasked with investigating allegations of abuse to include a member that has been directly impacted by sexual abuse, a healing mass for victims and their families (as wellas the Church and community), and uniform policies for reporting sexual abuse at schools at Diocesan and Non-Diocesan schools.

The Jesuit Order has agreed to several measures, including a full-day retreat with the plaintiffs and a Mass of Atonement to be held in Dallas. The order also agreed to continue to publicly disclose members and former members who have been credibly accused of child sexual abuse, and continue to publish the protocols for reporting child abuse.

“I sincerely apologize to any person who has been impacted by abuse related to any of our members or former members,” Father Tom Greene, Jesuit UCS provincial, said. “Abuse of a minor under any circumstances is a crime and a sin for which perpetrators need to be held accountable. 

“We have recently resolved several lawsuits because it is our hope to try and bring healing to persons who report they have suffered. We pray for all persons involved.”

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, Digital Editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including first place for her tornado coverage from the National Newspapers Association's 2020 Better Newspaper Contest, a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She is a member of the Education Writers Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Real Estate Editors, the News Leaders Association, the News Product Alliance, and the Online News Association. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at [email protected].

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