Religion

Vatican says resignation of Father Kirkham from St. Martin de Porres is valid

Prosper priest removed for “obscene” letter to another priest

Father Richard Kirkham also violated the Diocese safe environment policy on reporting allegations of sexual abuse or misconduct, according to Bishop Michael Olson.
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Father Richard Kirkham also violated the Diocese safe environment policy on reporting allegations of sexual abuse or misconduct, according to Bishop Michael Olson.

The June 2018 resignation of the Rev. Richard Kirkham, of Prosper, is valid, according to the Diocese of Fort Worth, which received a decree on the matter from the Congregations for Clergy at the Vatican.

Under Catholic Canon law, Father Kirkham remains a priest of the Diocese but must vacate the parish rectory, the Diocese of Fort Worth said in a statement.

“The Congregation has lifted the suspension of Father Kirkham, but he is without assignment. Bishop (Michael) Olson will assess how to proceed after meeting with Father Kirkham; however, he will not return as pastor of St. Martin de Porres,” the statement from the Diocese said.

Olson asked Kirkham to resign after a letter Kirkham wrote to another priest in Dallas was deemed intimidating, manipulative and inappropriate by the bishop.

After Kirkham submitted his resignation letter on June 4, 2018, he tried to rescind it, but Olson said he declined Kirkham’s request.

Olson accused Kirkham of failing to report knowledge he had of alleged sexual misconduct and predatory sexual harassment in the workplace regarding the Dallas-area priest.

The Diocese of Dallas has denied that the priest there ever committed those violations.

Olson gave the Star-Telegram a copy of a letter Kirkham is accused of writing to the priest in Dallas that outlines the allegations.

The letter

The events that led to Kirkham’s resignation began sometime in the fall of 2017, when Kirkham and the Dallas-area priest — whom Olson declined to identify for his privacy — met at Rockfish in Frisco for drinks.

The Dallas priest allegedly confided in Kirkham about an affair he was having with a woman involved in his parish. The priest told Kirkham that the woman had “more to lose” than he did, so he wasn’t worried about the affair, Kirkham wrote in the letter.

In the letter, Kirkham rehashed what he said was his October conversation with the Dallas priest. It includes explicit details of the priest’s alleged sexual preferences, the woman he was accused of having an affair with and details of the type of sex they reportedly had. The letter also alludes to the priest masturbating at his work desk, and having problems with alcoholism.

Kirkham threatened to report the Dallas priest to the Dallas diocese for his alleged sexual misconduct and predatory sexual harassment in the workplace.

Olson said no report has ever been made by Kirkham and that Kirkham admitted he never had intentions of reporting the alleged abuse — which violates the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth’s safe environment policy that mandates officials make reports if they hear of allegations of sexual abuse or misconduct.

Kirkham’s attorney, John P. Walsh, said Kirkham did everything he was trained to do when he became aware of possible sexual harassment in the workplace.

“The process he was following (called fraternal correction) is the process they are taught as priests,” Walsh said. “Go to the person first and get them to take action, and that’s exactly what happened.”

Olson disagreed. In a public letter, Olson wrote, “An allegation as serious as predatory behavior in the workplace as detailed by Father Kirkham in his letter is beyond the pale of ‘fraternal correction’ and requires the intervention of authorities for the safety and integrity of the victim of the predatory and sexual misconduct allegedly perpetrated.”

Walsh called the forced resignation retaliation because Olson had a connection with the Dallas priest.

“I was his rector in college,” Olson told the Star-Telegram. “I don’t have a peer relationship with him. I have not talked to him since I had the conversation with (the Dallas priest) at Bishop Edward Burns’ permission.”

Parishioners ask for Olson to step down

Following Kirkham’s resignation, parishioners from St. Martin de Porres and other parishes across the diocese began the process to ask Pope Francis to remove Olson.

Philip Gray, a canon lawyer and president of The St. Joseph Foundation, said he is advising the groups, gathering evidence and writing the petition. There are nine cases being brought against Olson, Gray said, but he declined to give details on the ones that haven’t been made public.

The other public case involves the closing of San Mateo Church.

Gray has said he sent a letter to Olson on June 17 that asked for him to resign, and letting him know about the petition. Olson hadn’t responded to the letter, he said.

More than 2,500 mandates — a form that officially allows Gray to speak on behalf of a parishioner who seeks removal of the bishop — have been distributed, and he has received hundreds of signed forms back, Gray said. The mandate says Olson “has become ineffective and harmful.”

Diocese spokesman Pat Svacina said in a statement that Olson addressed these efforts in a pastoral letter and video in December. The diocese has not been notified of Gray’s involvement, Svacina said.

In an hours-long meeting with the Star-Telegram in December, Olson said he as been as transparent as possible in dealing with the departures of priests and other decisions affecting parishes under his supervision.

“People have a right to be critical,” Olson said. “I don’t think people have a right to slander or be destructive or say untrue things.”

Some also criticized Olson for what they called a heavy-handed management style that tolerates no dissension. Olson said that is an unfair characterization.

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