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Priest took girl out of Sunday school classes to assault her, claims lawsuit against Catholic Diocese

A lawsuit against the Catholic Diocese of Dallas was filed Thursday claiming the church didn't do enough to protect a girl from former priest Richard Brown.

A recently-arrested former Dallas priest repeatedly raped an 8-year-old girl in the early 1980s after Sunday school at the Holy Family of Nazareth Church in Irving, according to a civil lawsuit filed Thursday against the Catholic Diocese of Dallas. 

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the victim by her aunt. The suit claims that Richard Thomas Brown would take the girl out of her Sunday school classes to give him “special help.” 

He took her inside the rectory and sexually assaulted her. The assaults occurred regularly for more than a year, the suit says. 

When they were alone, Brown would tell the girl, “God said it was OK.” 

He warned her to not tell anyone, claiming no one would believe her because he was “a man of God,” the suit says. 

And for years, the girl didn’t tell anyone. 

In 2004, she went to her aunt and said “something” had happened with Brown. 

The aunt contacted the Diocese and was told by an attorney for the organization that her niece was likely telling the truth because there had been other complaints against Brown. But, the aunt says, the Diocese never contacted her niece or tried to offer her assistance. 

“They ruined her life,” the aunt said Thursday after the lawsuit was filed. 

WFAA does not typically identify victims of sexual abuse and is not naming the aunt. 

RELATED: Bishop Burns releases statement on arrest of former priest accused of sexual assault

The lawsuit claims the Catholic Diocese of Dallas knew that "Brown's psychosexual disorder rendered him unfit for a position of trust and confidence." 

The Diocese said this week it had encouraged police to arrest Brown and denies it had worked to hide Brown. The organization said it gave police information on how to find him.

‘Cannot function’

The alleged victim, who is identified in the Dallas County lawsuit as Jane Doe, is now 45 and struggles to live an independent life. She doesn’t have a driver’s license and has struggled with drug abuse. 

“She cannot function as an adult. She never has,” the aunt said. “The entire family’s been like, ‘What happened here? What’s wrong with her? What’s happening here because everybody else is being successful in their lives.'” 

The lawsuit says the victim “suffered lifelong permanent injuries and damages and has been of unsound mind” because of the sexual abuse. 

The family wants justice for her, which may come through another victim. 

Credit: Courtesy photo
This photo of Richard Thomas Brown was taken in the mid-1980s while he was a priest in North Texas.

Brown, 78, was arrested Wednesday in Missouri on a charge of aggravated sexual assault in connection with another case. 

Court records show that Brown is accused of dozens of child abuse and sex assault cases, many of which occurred while he worked at North Texas churches. 

The aunt said her niece is relieved that Dallas detectives believe her and believe the other victims. 

‘Hiding this predator’

Attorney Tahira Khan Merritt said the Diocese protected Brown and hid the allegations for decades. 

“It’s pretty clear that the Diocese had multiple opportunities to stop him and stop what he was doing with the girls,” Merritt said Thursday. 

Merritt is representing the aunt in the civil case. Merritt said she wants to see the Diocese take responsibility for protecting abusers. 

“What they’ve done for decades now is hiding this predator and allowing him to continue on, moving him from parish to parish, and especially parishes with schools where he could have access to more and more girls,” the attorney said. 

The allegations against Brown started almost immediately after he was ordained in 1980, she said. 

Eventually, Brown was sent out of state but wasn’t “removed” from the priesthood until 2002. He was only recently laicized or defrocked. 

RELATED: Former priest claimed alleged victim 'was aggressively all over me,' sexual assault warrant says

Brown was among the 31 "credibly accused" priests named by the Catholic Diocese of Dallas last year. 

The Diocese has said the organization is cooperating with the Dallas Police Department and claims it has an oversight board that has reviewed every allegation. 

But Merritt said the church has avoided turning over information to police and could have done so years ago. 

“We’ve seen over and over again that the Catholic church cannot police itself," the attorney said. "They are incapable of policing themselves and that should be left to the people who do that for a living, law enforcement.” 

The victim’s aunt said she contacted the Diocese more than once. When her niece heard that the church was going to release a list of accused priests, the aunt contacted the organization again in 2018 to make sure Brown’s name would be on the list. 

She never heard back. 

Trusted priest

The aunt started attending the church in 1976 with her family, including her niece. She encouraged the girl to go to Sunday school and confirmation classes. 

“I was doing what I thought I was supposed to do as an aunt,” the woman said. 

The family trusted the priests, including Brown. 

“He had just had an easy way about him. Very friendly, very active, very close to the children,” the aunt said of Brown. “I look back at it now, you know, and I look at it and think why didn’t we think something then, but you trust a priest that you’re around proactively every day.”

The woman said in the 1980s people weren’t aware of abuses in churches. No one thought twice about children spending time with the religious leaders, she said. 

She was stunned when her niece confided in her in 2004. 

“It shook me to the core. I stopped going to mass. I couldn’t deal with it,” she said. 

But she eventually went back to Holy Family, even though most of her family stopped after hearing what happened. 

She still has faith and hopes the Catholic Diocese of Dallas will pay for therapy for her niece so the woman can heal. 

“I would like to see the Diocese reach out to my niece and give her the care that we haven’t been able to give,” the aunt said. “I’m hoping that they will stand up and do the right thing.” 

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