Kiss and Tell

As far as the allegations go, Houston's Father Joseph Tu Ngoc Nguyen loves the ladies. Juvenile, adult -- it doesn't matter.

The word from the residential treatment center where he was sent by his religious order in 1993 was that Father Tu suffered from a "very underdeveloped psycho-sexual personality." This diagnosis is found in a 1994 letter from then-Fort Worth Bishop Joseph Delaney to one of Father Tu's accusers. Delaney did not specify if Father Tu was stalled out in the oral, anal, phallic, latent or genital stage, but he did say that Father Tu would be better off in Houston, where "he can profit from living in a Dominican community with the support of several of his brothers."

But we're getting ahead of ourselves, so we'll go back to 1982, when the 48-year-old Tu allegedly kissed a 22-year-old nun seeking his spiritual guidance. It was at St. Matthews Parish in Arlington, where Father Tu, a gregarious and popular Vietnamese priest, had served off and on since 1975.

The woman, Janet Buchanan, is now the chief mission officer of a Catholic hospital in Oregon. She told the Houston Press that she met with Father Tu two or three times in his office. She says she met with him about concerns over her future as a nun. But apparently Father Tu had something else in mind.

"He started out by just touching and caressing and then moved to…kissing me fully on the lips," Buchanan says from Oregon. "I was very confused by that. I couldn't figure out at all why that was happening."

Confused, hurt and ashamed, Buchanan did not report the incident. But she stopped seeing Father Tu because, as she says, "I had no idea where it was progressing, but it seemed to be progressing."

She says that, a year later, she met another woman who claimed to have experienced the same thing with Father Tu. But still, she said nothing.

It wasn't until the early 1990s, when she was visiting a friend and former church member who lived out of state, that Buchanan thought Father Tu might be a predator. Buchanan's friend told a similar story about Father Tu, and that's when Buchanan's training as a licensed addictions counselor kicked in.

Buchanan's friend (who asked not to be named) told her that when she sought spiritual guidance from Father Tu in the late 1980s, he ended two sessions with a G-rated hug he attempted to turn R-rated by grabbing her ass and pulling her into him. On the first occasion, she gave him the benefit of the doubt. But on the second, when he went for her breast, she knew it was not just an innocent mistake.

Buchanan was convinced.

"I knew that if I had just happened to encounter two people over such a long time frame, that I was confident that it had happened to other women, and I was also confident that it was continuing," she says.

The two women approached Bishop Delaney with their stories. Both told the Press they were impressed and comforted by his compassion and swift action.

"He said the three most important words I could've ever heard -- and I didn't even know I even needed to hear them that much -- and that was 'I believe you,' " Buchanan says.

The women say Father Tu denied the accusations, but Delaney sent him to counseling anyway. But the real trouble started when he came back, which didn't last long.

Two juvenile sisters accused Father Tu of molesting them in 1980. Delaney had apparently heard enough. He punted Father Tu out of Fort Worth and back to the Dominican Order.

Buchanan's friend remembers it this way: "When the other two girls came forward, they immediately turned him back over [and] said, 'He will no longer function in the Fort Worth Diocese. We are not going to allow him in ministry here.' "

According to Delaney's letter to Buchanan, the Dominicans placed him in a residential treatment facility from approximately September 1993 to March 1994.

The story might very well have ended there, had it not been for two recent developments. In June, shortly before he died of cancer, Delaney released the names of eight priests -- including Tu -- who had been accused of molesting minors. Delaney indicated that Tu's juvenile accusers ultimately recanted, but he refused to open the eight priests' personnel files. The Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram subsequently filed a joint petition to have them opened.

The day after Bishop Delaney released the names, Houston Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza told parishioners at Father Tu's Holy Rosary Church that Father Tu had no sexual attraction to minors. Nope. No indecent feelings toward kids at all. No worries.

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Contributor Craig Malisow covers crooks, quacks, animal abusers, elected officials, and other assorted people for the Houston Press.
Contact: Craig Malisow