Don't Ask, Don't Tell

For 40 years, the Episcopal Church of Texas turned a blind eye to a priest who was sexually molesting male students.

It was around midnight when they left the dorm and headed to Headmaster Becker's house. They knocked on the door, and Becker's wife let them in. Then Becker appeared and offered the boys seats on the couch. That's when Evert spoke up, followed by Don.

"The headmaster had very little to say," Evert says, "...[but] the first thing he said was...something to the effect of, 'I was expecting this.'"

The boys didn't know what that meant. They just sat quietly.

Although the diocese states that Tucker (pictured circa 1968) abused boys at St. Stephen's in Austin, and possibly St. James in Houston, he has never been charged criminally.
Courtesy David Evert
Although the diocese states that Tucker (pictured circa 1968) abused boys at St. Stephen's in Austin, and possibly St. James in Houston, he has never been charged criminally.
As school chaplain, Tucker was an important part of graduation ceremonies, such as this one from 1968.
Courtesy David Evert
As school chaplain, Tucker was an important part of graduation ceremonies, such as this one from 1968.

"He said we weren't to tell anyone about this, not even our parents," Evert says. "And that's about all he said to us. And we walked out of there feeling like we had done our duty."

Shortly after that, the boys learned that Tucker was leaving St. Stephen's. Heart problems. As far as they were concerned, Becker had lived up to his word. Tucker would no longer be able to hurt any boys at St. Stephen's.

Becker wouldn't comment for this story, so it's unclear why he chose to "deal" with the matter in 1968, as opposed to 1966 — or whenever it was that he first knew the truth. It's unclear whether, after hearing from Evert and Don, he thought about his own son, Stephen, who was nine years old then. Maybe Becker never felt he had to worry about Stephen before, since he probably wasn't old enough for Tucker's taste. Was he thinking about the day when his son would be that age?

Whatever his reasons, Becker wanted to wash his hands of the matter. And he wanted to do it in a way that would not bring undue attention to St. Stephen's. Something like that could cost people their jobs and could cost the school money. It might taint his reputation as The Great White Hope, the man who had fought so hard to open St. Stephen's doors to African Americans. So, in 1968, he quietly shoved Tucker out the door.

Two years later, Tucker became the rector of St. James in Houston, a church and school on Southmore Boulevard whose congregants were mostly African-American, and mostly below the socioeconomic strata of St. Stephen's. When the diocese sent Tucker to St. James, Becker didn't sound the alarm. He did nothing.

For the next 20 years, a congregation of black Episcopalians was stuck with a predator. And Becker got to keep his good name.

Nothing shuts up men of God like a lawsuit.

When they're fund-raising, they point to all the good work they're doing in Jesus's name. But the truth, the way and the light crumble under the weight of a civil complaint. Being on God's side no longer cuts it. No, for that, you need lawyers.

Jim Tucker, who retired in 1994, would not comment for this story. Nor would Jim Woodruff. Nor would Fred Weissbach, the headmaster of St. Stephen's at the time Haslanger informed the school of the abuse. Bishop Don Wimberly wouldn't talk. Neither would Bishop Coadjutor Andy Doyle.

When the Press asked Chris Phillips, the attorney representing St. Stephen's, to expound on his response to the suit, Phillips said he couldn't comment on confidential matters — even though both the plaintiffs' complaint and the school's answer are public records.

Phillips's filing admits that "Tucker engaged in inappropriate sexual activities with male children at St. Stephen's School." It states that "Plaintiffs were sexually molested by Defendant Tucker while students at St. Stephen's Episcopal School."

But the curious thing is the assertion that "Tucker was not acting in the course or scope of employment with St. Stephen's Episcopal Church" when the abuse occurred. Ostensibly, this means that nowhere in Tucker's job description did it say that part of his job was to jerk off teenage boys. However, Tucker worked one-on-one with students, and it was no secret that he made rounds through the dorms after lights-out. It was also no secret he had boys over to his on-campus home. He oversaw the canteen, which put him in even further contact with boys. And the boys lived on school grounds, in a school dorm, away from their parents. Tucker never had to break into a home. He never had to shuttle a victim off campus. They were all right there in the open, ripe for the picking.

Surprisingly, much of the evidence showing who knew what and when they knew it came from the diocese itself. The information came from the Arlington-based Praesidium, a risk-management company that works with many religious organizations. The investigation lasted from May 2006 to April 2007, and while the diocese never released it, and while it's been sealed as part of the lawsuit, the diocese released a timeline of events in September 2007, explaining how these accusations ultimately saw the light of day.

During a class reunion party in 2005, according to the timeline, "a story was told among several alumni about the Reverend James L. Tucker's sexual abuse of students." These alumni included a former trustee, who ultimately reported it to the chairman of the school's board in April 2006, and then to the head of the school, the Reverend Roger Bowen.

"After further research and discussion with others, Bowen followed Diocese of Texas policy and notified [Bishop Don Wimberly] in May of 2006."

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