A former Catholic priest has admitted to lewd behavior or sex acts with at least five boys during his tenure with the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, according to records filed this week in a case that goes to court Monday.
Harry Monroe, the subject of 13 sexual abuse lawsuits that name him and the archdiocese as co-defendants, said he no longer contests the allegations against him but can’t remember specifics about all the incidents, alleged to have taken place from 1974 to 1984.
Yet the cases may never move to trial.
In a hearing scheduled for Monday in Marion Superior Court, Judge David A. Shaheed will consider the archdiocese’s request to dismiss one of the first lawsuits filed. The church argues that, like the statutory limit for criminal charges in the cases, the statute of limitations for lawsuits has expired.
Pat Noaker, the attorney representing all 13 plaintiffs, said the statute shouldn’t apply in the case to be heard Monday because his client learned only recently that the church knew of Monroe’s predatory habits early on.
The attorney for the archdiocese, Jay Mercer, could not be reached Thursday. Archdiocesan spokesman Greg Otolski said he could not comment on the litigation and had not seen Monroe’s pretrial deposition.
In that deposition, Monroe gave his first formal response to the allegations. He described his decade as a priest as a time filled with drugs, alcohol, pornography and sex games with adolescent boys at parishes in Indianapolis, Terre Haute and Tell City.
According to the deposition, Monroe said church officials knew he was taking boys into his private parish living quarters and on overnight camping trips. He also said church officials heard a recording of him having a lewd conversation with a boy during one of his first parish assignments in Indianapolis.
The Indianapolis Star reported on the case last year and included interviews with several of the men who said Monroe abused them. Many of their accounts are corroborated by Monroe’s deposition. Some of the victims and their families told The Star they complained to the archdiocese about Monroe as early as 1981.
A letter filed with Monroe’s deposition seemed to show that the archdiocese kept giving Monroe parish assignments with access to children after it recognized his conduct was a problem.
The 1982 letter from then-Indianapolis Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara assigned Monroe to his final priestly appointment, in Tell City. The address for Monroe listed on the letter is at the House of Affirmation, a California center that attempted to rehabilitate sexually abusive priests.
Monroe said that to his knowledge, no one in the archdiocese ever called police to report his abuse.
Each time Monroe was transferred, Noaker said, the archdiocese failed to warn his new parish of his abusive nature.
Nothing to lose
In June, Monroe, who spent seven hours under oath answering questions about his past, said he was broke, in poor health and living with his domestic partner in Nashville, Tenn. He said he can no longer afford an attorney. Now 59, Monroe said there was much in his life that he regrets, particularly his behavior with young boys, and that he had “nothing else to lose” by answering the questions.
“I’m trying to be as honest with you as I know how to be,” Monroe said during the deposition. “I just want to get this past me.”
He blamed much of his behavior on his use of alcohol, marijuana and powerful drugs such as Valium that led him to behave erratically, including riding a motorcycle naked on Southern Indiana roads. He said it also factored into his actions with boys.
He said he remembered playing games with two boys from St. Catherine’s in Indianapolis, including “running around naked, putting shaving cream on people’s privates and stuff like that.” He said they later blackmailed him, asking for money to keep the abuse quiet, an allegation the plaintiffs’ attorney denies. The payoff Monroe said the two boys demanded: less than $50.
Monroe made the payment but said he remembers feeling “crushed” by this early rejection.
“I thought we were close,” he said.
In another instance during the deposition, Monroe said he made an agreement to give a boy a hunting knife if the boy would allow Monroe to perform oral sex on him. He admits to having sexual contact with another boy at St. Catherine’s that amounted to “probably just touching.”
Frequently struggling with his memory, Monroe said he probably had engaged several other boys in sexual horseplay. But he issued the caveat that his heart problems and bypass surgery had left holes in his long-term memory. Handed photographs and copies of his parish assignment letters, some of the details came back to him.
At some moments during the deposition, Monroe expressed remorse. He said his mother died from knowing the grief her son had caused. Yet he also said his behavior was a byproduct of his substance abuse and his own immaturity, saying he never intended to hurt anyone.
“When I would drink and use drugs, I kind of reverted to adolescence myself,” he said. “I never thought of myself as an adult, which is just tragic for them.”
At one point in the questioning, Monroe said he recognized that, in a room with attorneys for the archdiocese and the plaintiffs, no one else was on his side. “Everyone here is covering someone else’s rear end, and I’m covering mine,” he said. “If I drop dead right now, it would probably benefit everyone.”
Removed from priesthood
Archdiocesan officials say they dismissed Monroe from the priesthood in 1984 because of sexual misconduct allegations. Monroe testified in June that he was never laicized, or formally returned to being a layperson. Shortly after his dismissal, he sought work with the Catholic Diocese of Nashville but was turned down.
Monroe said he bounced around several jobs, including one as an overnight desk clerk on a psychiatric ward serving adolescent patients at St. Thomas Hospital in Nashville. Then, he said, he spent 15 years doing crisis intervention for adults at the Parthenon Pavilion, a Nashville psychiatric hospital.
Monroe could not be reached Thursday. The Nashville phone number he gave at his deposition was disconnected. A man who answered the number Monroe gave for his domestic partner said he did not know Monroe.
Asked during his deposition whether he ever recognized how destructive it might be for the adolescent boys to be having sexual contact with an adult male, Monroe said he did. But at the time, he said, he didn’t recognize it as taking advantage of them.
“If I could take my life and turn it around,” he said, “I would do it in a heartbeat.”
By Robert King- IndyStar.com