Lawsuit reveals details of Austin priest’s alleged sexual abuse

Investigations

KXAN has uncovered new information about a former Austin priest who was credibly accused of sexually abusing children.

James O’Connor was on the list the Diocese of Austin released at the end of January, but they would not provide dates, details or the number of times church leadership believed he abused children.

A 2003 lawsuit just obtained, that ended in a settlement, provides details about allegations of abuse the diocese also believes happened. 

An Austin man said he was between the ages of 13 and 15 and attending St. Mary Catholic Church in Waco when Priest O’Connor sexually abused him multiple times at the parish and at the child’s home.

It happened between 1969 and 1971 while the priest was a frequent family dinner guest, and friends with the victim’s family. The victim said he supresssed the horrible memories until 2002 — nearly 30 years later.

The man was 46 when he filed the lawsuit, and said an episode of Oprah caused the trauma and memories to resurface. A guest on the show was talking about keeping quiet about abuse for years.

In the lawsuit, he also said the diocese knew about O’Connor’s “problems and propensities with young boys and did absolutely nothing to solve the problem.”  

Letters from the late Bishop John McCarthy to O’Connor were provided as evidence in the case, which the victim said illustrate how the diocese kept transferring O’Connor from parish to parish to avoid being detected by the parents of the abused children and other church members.

In a March 1994 letter, Bishop McCarthy wrote:

“It is certainly obvious to both of us that we are in strong disagreement as to your effectiveness in this Diocese since the date of your ordination and as to what we can do together to correct the burdens that you carry yourself and bring to others.”

“I am not comfortable placing you in charge of a parish, even a small one, but in order to give you a base for a few months while you rethink your situation, I am happy to go against my better judgment on the basis of Christian charity. By this letter you are appointed Administrator of St. Thomas Parish in Hamilton.”

The Diocese of Austin denies knowledge of a cover up.

“The current diocesan is not aware of any allegations of abuse prior to the lawsuit filed in 2003,” said Gonzalez.

Bishop John McCarthy passed away in 2018, and served as the bishop of the Austin Diocese from 1986 to 2001.

KXAN requested an interview with the diocese. Gonzalez sent the following statement instead:

“In 2003 a lawsuit was filed against Rev. James O’Connor and the Diocese of Austin. The diocese believed the victim’s allegations to be credible and a settlement was reached. The victim and the Diocese of Austin interacted respectfully throughout the legal proceedings and we have a high degree of respect for him. We continue to pray for all people who have experienced abuse and are committed to accompanying them on their road to healing.”

Gonzalez also said there have been no new allegations of abuse against O’Connor or anyone else on the list since it was released at the end of January.

KXAN also noticed the history of assignments provided by the Diocese of Austin do not match up with the “parochial assignments” provided as evidence in the lawsuit. The lawsuit list, the Austin Diocese believes was produced by O’Connor, includes a 1990 assigment in Belleville, TX and an assignment in the late 1970’s in Germany. Those locations are not listed in the information the diocese released at the end of January.

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