Priest sues Indiana diocese after ‘no evidence’ found in sex abuse investigation — By: Catholic News Agency

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CNA Staff, Mar 14, 2024 / 12:45 pm (CNA).

A priest in Indiana is suing his diocese for fraud and defamation after he was suspended over what the clergyman claims were false allegations of sexually abusing a minor. 

Father James DeOreo in a filing at Boone County Circuit Court earlier this month alleged that the Diocese of Lafayette-in-Indiana, along with its vicar general, Father Theodore Dudzinski, committed both defamation and fraud, respectively, against DeOreo in a yearslong conflict over accusations against the priest. 

The filing alleges that in January 2021, a parishioner alleged that DeOreo “abused the [parishioner] by encouraging him to fast and engage in other spiritual and ascetic practices,” which eventually led the individual to “suffer an eating disorder.”

A subsequent investigation found that “no abuse had occurred.” The diocese, however, “agreed to pay for the Complainer’s psychotherapy” in order to help him cope with his eating disorder. 

DeOreo in the filing claims that Dudzinski “[sat] in on [the parishioner’s] therapy sessions” for several months throughout 2021, and that in several cases the vicar general allegedly told both the individual and his therapist that the diocese would reopen the investigation against DeOreo if accusations “of a sexual nature” were leveled against him. 

The parishioner subsequently “made false allegations that DeOreo had abused him,” the filing says. The parishioner had claimed the abuse consisted of “verbal communication and innuendo,” including an “off-color” joke the priest reportedly told, as well as an instance where DeOreo allegedly claimed to have felt “tempted” around the accuser. The priest denied both situations ever occurred.

The diocese undertook a new investigation, DeOreo said, but none of its investigators “found the new allegations to be credible,” and they found “no evidence to substantiate the allegations.”

The priest claimed Dudzinski moved to “hide, obfuscate, or destroy the findings” of the diocese’s investigation. DeOreo was subsequently restricted from public ministry and ultimately suspended in March 2022 following further complaints from his accuser’s family. 

The diocese days later published a public statement revealing the existence of “allegations of inappropriate conduct with a minor” originally made by the parishioner. 

The diocese did not follow proper Church protocol in its handling of the controversy, DeOreo’s filing claims. The diocese further falsely suggested that “substantial evidence pointed toward DeOreo’s misconduct, guilt, and/or culpability,” which the priest called an “untruth.”

DeOreo is seeking $10 million from the diocese for the loss of his “previously impeccable reputation as a priest.” He is further seeking unspecified damages against Dudzinski.

Diocesan spokeswoman Gabby Hlavek on Thursday declined to comment on the proceedings. 

“The diocese cannot discuss pending litigation; instead, we ask that you please join us in prayer for all those that are affected,” she told CNA.

Dudzinski’s office did not respond to a query on the filing. 

DeOreo was ordained in 2018. In 2022 he sued the man who originally made the allegations against him. That case was ultimately dismissed this month with the priest and the accuser settling out of court. 

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