Not in Good Standing
Thirteen years after he was accused of molesting two little girls, Houston priest Joseph Tu Ngoc Nguyen has been suspended by the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. The suspension comes seven months after then-archbishop Joseph Fiorenza told parishioners at Holy Rosary Church that the Dominican Order had investigated and cleared Father Tu. The priest was in no way attracted to little girls, Fiorenza wrote in a letter read to the families filling the pews. They had no reason to worry. He left out the part about Tu's treatment at a rehab center in New Mexico, where he was diagnosed with a "very underdeveloped psycho-sexual personality."
According to a spokeswoman, Fiorenza got the information about the investigation from the Diocese of Fort Worth, where the alleged abuse occurred. That diocese claimed to get its information on Tu's good standing straight from the Dominican Order of New Orleans. The order's attorney even indicated that an investigation was successfully completed.
The only problem was, no one told the two little girls there was an investigation.
After years of silence, a Dallas attorney last week filed affidavits from the original accusers, who claim Tu molested them in 1975, when they were seven and eight. They claim that no one from the Dominican Order contacted them about an investigation. They also say they were shocked to learn that Tu was still in the ministry as of 2006.
They aren't the only ones: Four other women have signed affidavits in the case, accusing Tu of molesting them in the 1970s and 1980s, when he was at St. Matthews Parish in Arlington. Meanwhile, everyone affiliated with the dioceses and the Dominican Order is referring to an investigation that, 31 years after the accusations surfaced, doesn't seem to have happened.
We could start with the woman who says Tu fondled her breasts at her home when she was 13. Or we could start with the other woman, who says Tu fondled her breasts when she was 21. Then again, we could start with either of the women who say Tu groped them in his office when they were in their early twenties. There's also the most recent allegation - filed March 6 - from a woman who says Tu molested her when she was about ten.
But let's start at the beginning.
This long after the allegations, some details are murky, but the sisters say their abuse occurred around Christmas 1975, shortly after Tu came to the parish. The sisters asked to remain anonymous. One sister, now 37, says Tu called her and her sister into his office to show them something.
"He closed the door behind us, sat in a chair, and he would take one of us at a time on his lap and hold us real close to his body, in between his legs," the woman says. "And then he would show us a Christmas card and then he would kiss us. He kissed us all over the face and the mouth, very wet, you know...I had never experienced anything like that. And he would do card after card after card, and each card he'd show us, he'd kiss us, kiss us, kiss us. And I remember just thinking..."When is it going to stop? I don't want to do this.' "
The girls told their mother, who did not tell church officials or her husband. The parents have since given sworn statements. The woman says her mom told her that she probably misunderstood Tu's intentions, that he probably missed his family and friends and Vietnam and needed some affection.
"All I heard was 'Let him do it. He needs it,' " the woman says. "So here I am, an eight-year-old, learning that a man can do something I'm uncomfortable with and I should let him."
The woman says her sister is not giving interviews. But in her statement, the sister states, "The truth is that neither my sister nor I has ever recanted about being abused by Tu. He did sexually abuse us. I am asking the court to unseal his files and to make its content public, especially to the Houston community, so he cannot hurt anyone else."
Tu's situation came to light last year, when Fort Worth Archbishop Joseph Delaney released the names of eight priests accused of abuse. Tu was the only active priest.
At the time, a Dallas attorney was suing the diocese on behalf of two men who claimed another priest molested them as minors. That case was settled for $4.15 million; the priest, Father Thomas Teczar, never admitted any wrongdoing.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram and The Dallas Morning News subsequently sued the diocese to unseal Teczar's records, as well as those of the other priests. Late last month, the judge said he would release some of the information.
Before the sisters stepped forward, Tu's lawyer, Allen Pennington, argued in court that Tu's file should remain sealed because the original accusers "never accused [Tu] of sexual abuse...They don't want to be involved in the current case or in the resulting media circus...These ladies do not want their names in the press or in the courtroom."
It appears that either Pennington plucked these claims out of thin air or he misread his Magic 8 Ball. The sisters never made any statements to anyone about staying out of the case. In fact, the sister who spoke to the Press says she didn't even know about the litigation over the files until last month, when a friend showed her one of the newspaper articles.
"That was just a complete mistruth," she says of Pennington's claims, "because he had never spoken to me, my father, my mother, my sister, and nobody at the [Diocese] of Fort Worth or Galveston ever contacted any of my family. The Dominicans never contacted any of my family. I mean, all of it is not true."
She says the only time anyone asked her and her sister about their allegations was in 1993, when someone from the Fort Worth diocese took their statements. She later learned that Tu was sent to rehab in New Mexico. She never knew he remained in the ministry.
Of course, the easiest way to solve this puzzle is for the Dominicans or the dioceses to release the details of the investigation. Until then, the sisters and everyone else will just have to take their word for it.
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