The Catholic Diocese of Corpus Christi faces a lawsuit accusing sexual abuse of a minor, but church officials said they had no prior knowledge of the abuse that was alleged to have taken place between 1969 and 1972.
The lawsuit accuses the diocese of trying to conceal the problem within the local and Catholic Church as a whole, according to court documents filed by Houston attorney Felecia Peavy in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas in Galveston on March 28. The suit also claims that the church failed to warn parishioners of a possible pedophile, and neglected to protect children from a sexual predator.
“The Diocese was not aware of any inappropriate activity and there were no records of complaints of inappropriate activity. This lawsuit was the first I had heard of any kind of complaints,” said the Most Rev. Edmond Carmody, Bishop of the Diocese of Corpus Christi.
In the suit, James Cameron, 42, who now lives in Arizona, alleges that he was sexually abused by Christopher J. Springer, a priest on loan to the Diocese of Corpus Christi from the Order of the Redemptorists, at Corpus Christi parish Our Lady of Perpetual Help. The Redemptorists are a religious order of Catholic priests based out of Louisiana. The Redemptorists and their current Vice Provincial Thomas Picton Jr. are named as co-defendants in the suit along with Springer, the Diocese of Corpus Christi and Carmody, who was not bishop when Springer was in Corpus Christi.
Attempts to contact the 75-year-old Springer have been unsuccessful, but the lawsuit lists his last known address in Louisiana.
Allegations of a cover up
The suit was filed in Galveston, Peavy said, because it is a good halfway point for witnesses being called from Corpus Christi and Louisiana.
The lawsuit alleges Cameron was abused from the summer of 1969 through the spring of 1972, beginning when he was 9 years old, and that he has knowledge of other boys in the parish who were also abused, according to court documents.
The suit also alleges that the Diocese and the Redemptorists should have known about Springer’s alleged tendencies and taken measures to remove him. The lawsuit accuses the Diocese and the religious order of trying to cover up the wrongdoing and failing to investigate numerous notices that Springer was a danger to minor boys.
According to the Diocese, Springer was transferred out of Corpus Christi in the early 1970s. Picton, who currently heads the Redemptorist Order in New Orleans, said Springer was transferred because of his work with the deaf and not as a result of allegations against him.
Redemptorist officials said he left the order in 1972 and joined the Diocese of Baton Rouge in 1973. In 1985 Springer was forced out of the ministry and in 1990 was officially kicked out of the priesthood for accusations similar to those Cameron has made, Baton Rouge diocese officials said. Diocese officials at the time did not report the accusations to police, officials said. Cameron is seeking $6 million in damages and $9 million in punitive damages.
This is the second lawsuit handled by Peavy that names Springer as a defendant. The other case is still pending in Louisiana.
Peavy said Cameron chose to bring the lawsuit against the diocese and the order now, more than 30 years later, because the timing was right.
“He was raised in a very devout Catholic home and felt like he didn’t have any options. He felt like you shouldn’t dare to take on the all-powerful Catholic Church,” she said. “But now with all the cases that have surfaced in places like Boston, the church can no longer create a safe harbor for predators, and it is easier for people like Cameron who have had problems to come forward.”
Carmody said that when Cameron’s attorneys contacted him late last week, it was the first he had heard of the case or the allegations. He said the diocese has given the Nueces County District Attorney’s Office all the information concerning Springer and the allegations being made against him. There were never any formal complaints filed against the priest while he was here, no criminal investigation took place and the statute of limitations has since passed.
Nueces County District Attorney Carlos Valdez said his office did receive word of the complaint, but will not be pursuing a criminal investigation because the case is too old.
Carmody said his office informed the District Attorney’s office anyway because it is the diocese’s policy to report any allegations past or present to local law enforcement. In 1969, no set policy existed.
Picton, who was not in charge at the time that Springer was in the Order, said that there weren’t any complaints against Springer during his time in Corpus Christi. He also said that he found letters asking the order to allow Springer to stay in the parish.
“What we do have recorded are petitions to keep him in Corpus Christi with numerous signatures on it, including James Cameron and his mother,” Picton said. “At the time the Redemptorists were planning on moving Springer to another area because of his work with the deaf and not because people were complaining about him.”
Cameron said he didn’t file a complaint or tell anyone, including his family, until he was an adult.
Picton said that doesn’t mean the allegations are untrue.
“But what the lawsuit is accusing is that we knew and covered it up,” Picton said. “We did not have any complaints of pedophile activity and didn’t receive any until after he was no longer a priest.”