Fort Worth Diocese Interrogated Sex Abuse Victim and His Mother in a Starbucks: Lawsuit
By 2013, the stories of child molestation in the Catholic church, along with the archdiocese's attempts to sweep the allegations under the rug, were old news. In that year alone, sex abuse cases cost the Catholic church $108,954,109, according to a report by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The bishops acknowledged the church's failings and laid out a series of recommendations to prevent more abuse and abuse cover-ups. "We pledge that we will work toward healing and reconciliation for those sexually abused by clerics," they wrote.
But that same year, the Fort Worth Diocese was working to cover up a new claim of sexual abuse, a lawsuit filed this week claims. The man identified in court documents only as John Doe 117 says he was the victim of sadistic "punishment" by Father John H. Sutton when he was a student at Wichita Falls' Notre Dame Middle-High School in the early 1990s.
Sutton, who died in 2004, was employed by the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth as the school's Chaplain, confessor and a history teacher. During a 7th grade history class, Sutton accused Doe of copying an assignment from an encyclopedia, Doe claims. For "penance," Sutton ordered the boy to pray in the chapel during his lunch hour. Soon, Sutton would look for Doe in the lunchroom multiple times each week, the suit claims, and escort him to the chapel.
In the chapel, Sutton stood over Doe while he knelt in payer, and then began groping him, Doe says. The assaults escalated, the suit says, and eventually Sutton was raping Doe with sex toys that he kept in a black bag:
Doe also recalls hearing the sound of a camera clicking during some incidents of abuse. Sutton even stuffed a towel in Doe's mouth to prevent his uncontrollable agonizing screams from being heard. "Shut up," Sutton threatened the child, "or it will be worse."
Doe claims Sutton also threatened him that "I have the power to ruin your life." Doe was later accused of selling LSD at school -- a charge he says was brought on in retaliation for hinting to another faculty member that Sutton had been abusing him. He says the abuse lasted two years.
In 2013, the victim was a grown man living in Washington when, he says, he had a nervous breakdown. Suffering flashbacks from his abuse, he decided to talk to the Catholic Diocese. Fort Worth's Catholic Diocese acknowledges this much in a statement released to the media, the only comment they agreed to make about the case:
The Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth was contacted by a former student of Notre Dame Catholic School in Wichita Falls. The former student made allegations of sexual abuse by a deceased priest, Father John H. Sutton. The Diocese offered and provided professional personal counseling and pastoral support to the former student.
Doe spoke to Fort Worth's victim assistance coordinator over the course of a year and began going to therapy. Finally, by September 2014, Fort Worth Diocese Bishop Michael Olson agreed to fly to Spokane, Washington to meet with the alleged victim. Olson requested they meet in a Starbucks, the suit claims, and asked if it was okay if he brought along a volunteer. Doe agreed to the conditions.
It wasn't until recently that Doe discovered the volunteer was also a Fort Worth police officer, the suit says. During the meeting, Olson agreed to be recorded. "At a busy local Starbucks, after giving in that very public place an emotionally grueling recorded account of the sexual assaults and abuses by Father Sutton," the suit says, "Doe asked Bishop Olson to go to Mass with him and pray with him ..." But Olson refused to pray with the victim afterward, the suit says, making the excuse that he was too busy.
Olson also asked to meet with Doe's mother, separately, again in a Starbucks. While there, they also asked her to recount her son's allegations of sex abuse. "They did not tell her that she was being recorded secretly, a criminal violation of Washington State law," the suit claims. According to the lawsuit, the likely purpose of the recordings was to get a statement from the victim without an attorney present and to lull him into thinking the church was investigating his allegations while the statute of limitations ran out.
John Doe is asking for $1 million. The Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth's statement to the media doesn't address the allegations that the victim and his mother were recorded in a Starbucks. The spokeswoman says church officials did all they could to find more victims of Sutton. In early 2014, she says, Olson and other Diocesan officials visited "all parishes in the Wichita Falls area which had students at Notre Dame School during the tenure of Father Sutton. At the end of each of the Masses, the Diocese announced the allegations and formally asked for victims to contact the Diocese and civil authorities. "
The suit is below:
Send your story tips to the author, Amy Silverstein.
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