Priest's death rekindles sex abuse allegations

Thursday, December 31, 2009 at 2:26pm
Staff Reports

A group that aids survivors of victims of abuses by priests is not letting one rest in peace.

The director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said the recent death of the Rev. Paul St. Charles was unfortunate because he died “without apologizing to his victims.”

St. Charles, 70, who died in Nashville on Dec. 27 at Saint Thomas Hospital and was a leader of Memphis Catholic youth groups in the 1970s and later a Nashville priest until his retirement in 1986, was named in multiple lawsuits alleging sexual abuse.

More than a dozen accusers alleged he had sexually abused them during the 1970s and 1980s. At least three of the suits were settled.

St. Charles had battled heart and neuromuscular problems for many years, according to Rick Musacchio, director of communications for the Diocese of Nashville.

In 2004, Catholic Bishop J. Terry Steib suspended St. Charles from performing any priestly duties after a diocesan review board found that “more likely than not” he had sexually abused a Memphis teenager in the 1970s.

“We are saddened that this predator priest went to his grave without ever apologizing to his victims or admitting his crimes,” SNAP director David Brown said in a statement. “While every death is sad, we are grateful that he'll never have the chance to hurt another innocent vulnerable child.”

In one case, a "John Doe" alleged he was an eighth-grade altar boy when St. Charles sexually abused him in his car at a drive-in theater. That suit also alleged that the late priest had a history of sexual abuse that was documented in a secret diocesan file and that he was moved beyond local jurisdiction to avoid prosecution and scandal.

SNAP is the oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims in the country.

St. Charles, who in 2008 received a plaque commemorating the 50th anniversary of his graduation from Nashville's Father Ryan High School, denied all allegations that he was a child abuser.

"I'm just counting the days, waiting for the Lord to take me," St. Charles told The Commercial Appeal that same year when he was named in a sixth lawsuit. "And when I stand before the Lord, my conscience is clear."