The pope has accepted, for reasons of age, the resignation of Bishop William Houck of the Jackson, Miss., diocese, which was recently slapped with two lawsuits seeking a total of $75 million in connection with the church abuse scandal.
Houck turns 77 in June. The Vatican requires bishops to offer their resignation when they turn 75, and it is up to Pope John Paul II to accept or ask the bishop to stay on.
The Vatican said Friday that the pope had accepted the resignation because of Houck’s age and had named Monsignor Joseph Latino, currently the vicar general of the Houma-Thibodaux diocese in Louisiana, as the new bishop of Jackson.
In June, three brothers filed a $48 million lawsuit against the Jackson diocese, accusing it of having ignored sexual abuse by a priest they say took place between 1969-74, when the boys were about 5 to 14 years old.
The suit named the diocese as well as clergymen including Houck and the diocese’ former vicar general, Bernard Law, accusing them of civil contempt and fraud for failure to report the alleged abuse.
Law, now a cardinal, resigned last month as head of the Boston archdiocese, which has been the focal point of the sex abuse scandal engulfing the Roman Catholic Church in America.
Brothers Kenneth, Thomas and Francis Morrison charge that the abuse continued after the allegations were reported to Law. Houck was named in the suit in his role as head of the diocese.
In response to the suit, the Jackson diocese has said the alleged abuser, the Rev. George Broussard, was ordered to undergo psychiatric treatment and evaluation. It has called the allegations of a church cover-up “vague” and “conjecture.”
In July, two men filed a $27 million lawsuit against the diocese, saying they were abused by Catholic priests and accusing the church of covering up their abuse and lying to them about other cases.
Houck and Law were named in that suit as well. The suit was filed by Mark Belenchia and a man identified as John Doe, both of whom previously received settlements of about $50,000 from the church.
Lawyers have said they are seeking more because they say the church lied to them about prior knowledge of abuse by priests.
Soon after the Morrison suit was filed, Houck announced that a review committee, composed of lawyers, psychologists and a nurse, would examine past sexual misconduct allegations involving priests in the Jackson diocese.