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6 Investigates obtains secret documents held by the Diocese of Corpus Christi

Documents reveal inaction in cases involving accusations of sexual assault against local priests
Diocese of Corpus Christi
Posted at 4:33 PM, Jan 09, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-10 18:20:05-05

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — The history of sexual abuse by clergy in the Catholic Church is widely documented. Locally, there are at least 12 pending civil cases against the Diocese of Corpus Christi.

6 Investigates obtained secret documents from the Diocese of Corpus Christi, which showed the steps they took, or didn't take, when dealing with accusations against a local priest.

"The Diocese of Corpus Christi and other dioceses like it are trying to protect. They do not want people to realize that we knew about this information, and instead of protecting the child, we protected the brother priest," attorney Robert Pastor said.

Pastor, an attorney in Arizona who represents survivors of sexual abuse by priests, is involved in eight ongoing suits against the Diocese of Corpus Christi involving its priest, Father Clement Hageman.

The suits allege that the diocese learned Hageman was sexually abusing children and moved him to other parts of the country to work in parishes including Arizona, where additional allegations of abuse are said to occurred.

"A priest who is working outside of his home Diocese is still under his Bishop’s supervision and control unless he goes through a formal transfer to join a new diocese. Fr. Hageman never went through the formal transfer process and was always under the Bishop of Corpus Christi’s supervision and control," Pastor wrote in an email to 6 Investigates. "The Bishop of Corpus Christi was willing to make Fr. Hageman someone else’s problem. We are currently in the process of trying to unearth other documents and records the Diocese of Corpus Christi is trying to keep buried."

Pastor, who is Catholic, said that while some of these cases may have happened years ago, the hunt for answers continues to this day.

6 Investigates asked the Diocese of Corpus Christi to sit down for an interview, but they declined, saying they addressed sex abuse in the church in an interview in 2019. They also said they do not comment on pending litigation.

Christ the King Catholic Church
Christ the King Catholic Church

FATHER HUGH CLARKE

In 2002, an investigation by the Boston Globe exposed the sexual abuse of children by priests. Since that time, numerous survivors have come forward.

The Roman Catholic Church is the largest Christian church, with over 1.3 billion members worldwide.

In Corpus Christi, census data indicates one of every three people who claim a religion do so under the umbrella of the diocese.

Nationally and internationally, there is a documented history of bishops, archbishops, and popes who have failed to address — and even hid sexual misconduct against children.

An investigation by KRIS 6 News discovered the Diocese of Corpus Christi acted similarly.

Our team routinely scours court records and those that involve the diocese are often locked to public access.

In addition to the 12 pending civil cases, we also found four settled cases — some dating back to 2010. The diocese was alleged not to have acted or not done enough in cases where priests allegedly abused children.

And in almost every case, 6 Investigates could not access court files. However, because of an error in the sealing of some case files, the public is able to see how the church handled sexual allegations for the first time.

One such case is that of Father Hugh Clarke.

Clarke was a pastor in Corpus Christi from the 1960s to the 1980s, as well as an associate pastor at Christ the King Parish Church on Rojo Street.

In January 1969, he was appointed the moderator of youth for the Corpus Christi Deanery and then reappointed to that position later that year.

"I am sure that your interest and presence and work among the youngsters is a source of inspiration and joy to them," the Most Rev. Thomas J. Drury wrote in a letter re-appointing Clarke.

In the mid-80s, Diocese secret records obtained from court files contain detailed notes of alleged sexual abuse of children, as well as Clarke's visits to Mexico with three teenagers.

Those visits involved drugs, alcohol, brothel visits, and sexual abuse.

Among the notes contain a notation to "contact H. Clarke to go to RRR. Felony with minor, state penitentiary."

Those same documents revealed in 1985, following the visit to Mexico, Clarke was sent to a "Rest, Renewal and Re-Creation" facility in Washington, D.C. He also saw a clinical psychologist, who diagnosed him with a psychosexual disorder and pedophilia.

After 42 days of treatment, he then returned to his duties, without the supervision and treatment recommended by the psychologist, according to documents in the secret files.

Four years later, Clarke was promoted to monsignor, which is the position he held until retiring in 1996.

"How can you sacrifice this child for this predator? And what we see in father Clark's file as we've seen in hundreds of other files on priests, is that they routinely protected the priest over protecting the child," Pastor said.

In 2011, documents show the diocese paid $1.2 million to settle a civil case involving Clarke's actions and the church's inaction. That settlement should have sealed these records from view.

"They want people to stop speaking up, they want people to stop raising these issues, and they don't want to be held accountable — and that's disgusting," Pastor said.

Clarke's story is not an isolated one.

FATHER STEPHEN DOUGHTERY

KRIS 6 News has previously reported on the case of Father Stephen Doughtery, who was granted permission to work as a priest in parishes within the diocese beginning in 2004.

In March 2018, he was sentenced to 60 years in prison for the rape of a 13-year-old girl. Her family said their lives have forever been altered.

"Our whole lives have been destroyed ever since then, and nothing — nothing will ever be the same," Sheryl Hunt, the mother of the victim, said in an interview with KRIS 6 News after that conviction.

One of the civil cases pending against the diocese includes a case alleging the church should have known Doughtery was "psychologically unfit to serve in a priestly capacity in that he had a psycho-sexual disorder characterized by a depraved sexual attraction to children."

These were two examples 6 Investigates were able to obtain, but how many more exist? Documents on these priests are held in what is called a "secret archive" and are only obtainable through a court order.

The Code of Canon Law 489 outlines the rules that the church has in place to organize and govern itself.

It required each diocese to have these "secret files," but some say these files may be incomplete. Canon law also states that every year, documents of criminal cases are destroyed when the potential perpetrator has died or when 10 years have passed, with just a brief summary of the documents to be kept.

Experts like Pattie Koo, with the group Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said this could potentially be destroying evidence for future cases.

"With the sealed documents, there's still a lot that we don't know," Koo said.

Katia Uriarte Philipello, the spokesperson for the diocese, originally said that the diocese does not use secret archives anymore — then later said that they do maintain files in accordance with Canon Law 489, but just that the documents are called another name.

"Bishops will fight tooth and nail to prevent the discovery of these records, and once they are found, to prevent access to these records," Pastor said.

Father Stephen Dougherty
Father Stephen Dougherty

ACTIONS BY THE DIOCESE OF CORPUS CHRISTI

In 2019, Bishop Michael Mulvey and the diocese released a list naming 26 clergy members from 1950 to 2016 who had credible claims of sexual abuse with minors, which included Dougherty and Clarke.

"I just want to the entire community, you know, to say it's a difficult moment for us, and I ask everyone's forgiveness if you have been scandalized in any way," Bishop Mulvey said in an interview in 2019.

6 Investigates requested an interview with the diocese for this story, but the request was declined. They said abuse within the church had been recently addressed.

In a statement, the diocese said releasing the list was to be transparent about the past and help begin healing. But some survivor's advocates said these measures are not enough, and potential victims should have access to secret archives.

"It's a part of just protecting their reputation, and to say it's proactive is just an outright lie; it is. I mean, we know that that's not true just because of how old the cases are and how long they have had these records and survivors pleading with them and to help them," Koo said.

"Shame on the Bishop for trying to keep this secret when in another breath, and another public statement, (he) says he wants truth and transparency," Pastor said. "This isn't just a witch hunt against the Catholic church, in fact, it's not. It's a quest for truth — it's a quest for justice, and if they truly want to bring healing and if they want people to place trust back in the church, then show us what you've been hiding. Because until you do that, Catholics and non-Catholics are not going to trust you."

For continued coverage, read part two here.

Full statement from the Diocese of Corpus Christi:

Your proposal for a story regarding abuse within the church is something The Dioceses of Corpus Christi has recently addressed. Because of this, an interview with Bishop Michael Mulvey regarding this topic we respectfully decline. However, I think the following response will answer your questions.

To give you some background, in January of 2019 Bishop Michael Mulvey released a list naming 26 clergy members with ties to the Diocese of Corpus Christi who had credible claims of sexual abuse to minors. It’s been almost 4 years since that list was compiled and released. Immediately after the release, Bishop Mulvey gave interviews to all local news outlets that reached out and talked openly about why the Diocese compiled and released the list, the deep remorse for all involved and how we can move forward. The intention was two-fold: to be transparent by bringing to light something that was shameful and incredibly painful and to also acknowledge the wounds of the past and begin healing.

In direct response to your inquiry- we have many safeguards in place to prevent abuse of any kind. Just to bring you up to speed, the Diocese has an entire office committed to this effort: The Office of Safe Environment. That office was created in 2002 to establish and implement ministerial boundaries for everyone: from priests to the lay individual. Safe Environment training includes educating those in our Diocese on how to spot and report suspected abuse to law enforcement and/or to Child Protective Services.

In addition, before anyone can minister, work or be a volunteer in our Diocese, one must have a completed criminal background check and complete a Safe Environment course in person or online. To date, the Diocese of Corpus Christi has background checked over 35,600 individuals and almost 40-thousand people have been safe environment trained. These are people who have any kind of role working with or around children in our Diocese (whether they are actively volunteering, serving the church or paid staff). The focus of our support is to meet today’s human struggles and to help lead our parishioners to find trusted adults, speak to them and know that they deserve to be safe.

Since the list was released nearly 4 years ago, we can say the focus has begun to shift towards expanding family support to anybody who has suffered abuse of any kind, no matter where it occurred. At present, the office of victim assistance remains open to receive anyone who wants to report abuse with a 24/7 hotline.

Finally, to answer your last question…. what do we do when abuse of a minor is reported to us? In addition to what I mention above, the Diocese, along with every Diocese in the US, follows guidelines outlined in a charter created in 2002 by the Vatican- The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. This charter created detailed protocol and safeguards aimed entirely at preventing sexual abuse of children and young people by clergy in the future. The charter calls for the whole Church to recognize and prevent recidivism as referenced in your email about perpetrators being allowed into Ministry.

All these efforts have created a more vigilant church. It has created a greater awareness in people throughout the Diocese and with their help we work constantly towards prevention. Vigilance is an important area of preventing any kind of abuse.

We are grateful to all those in our Diocese: clergy, religious and laity who are dedicating themselves to promote the Gospel of Jesus Christ and serving many areas of human need.
Spokesperson Katia Uriarte Philipello

RESOURCES FOR VICTIMS

If you have been a victim of sexual abuse, there is help. The first thing experts recommend is to contact law enforcement.

The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests has several resources, including an office in San Antonio.

The Diocese of Corpus Christi has an email address that is staffed 24/7, reportabuse@diocesecc.org

Diocese of Corpus Christi Pt. 2 teaser

Part 2: Law could eliminate statute of limitations in civil cases involving sexual assault.

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