Fort Worth

Attorney to bishop who removed DFW priest: ‘I pray you realize how egregious this looks’

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 attorney for a former Prosper priest who was asked to resign after writing a letter that Bishop Michael Olson deemed intimidating, manipulative and inappropriate says there was no justification for removing the Rev. Richard Kirkham from St. Martin de Porres parish.

Kirkham was also accused by Olson, bishop of the Fort Worth diocese, of not reporting knowledge he had of alleged sexual misconduct and predatory sexual harassment in the workplace regarding a Dallas-area priest.

In June, Olson learned that Kirkham wrote a letter to the Dallas-area priest threatening to turn him in for having an affair with a woman involved in that priest’s parish.

The letter 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.

A spokesperson for the Dallas diocese said, “Both parties in the Diocese of Dallas were shocked by the allegations (in the letter) and deny it to be true. Both of these individuals are believed to be credible.”

No other details on how the Dallas diocese reached that conclusion were released.

The diocese has said no action was taken against that priest, but Kirkham’s attorney, John P. Walsh, said the diocese moved the priest to another parish. According to a post on the parish’s Facebook page, a priest was transferred on June 5 — the day after Kirkham says he was forced to resign.

Annette Gonzales Taylor, spokesperson for the Dallas diocese, said the transfer was “totally separate and had nothing to do with the letter.”

“Priests serve as Parochial Vicars to get experience before becoming pastors. Parochial Vicars routinely spend 2-3 years in a parish assisting and learning from a pastor before being transferred to another parish to learn from that pastor,” Taylor said in an email.

The transfer, she said, had already been approved by the Clergy Personnel Board on May 16. It was a routine transfer, she added.

“In fact, it was one of more than 10 Parochial Vicar transfers approved at the same time,” she said, adding that the total number of transfers approved at that time was 18.

The priest at the center of Kirkham’s letter has not been identified by either diocese.

The letter Walsh wrote was provided to the Star-Telegram by multiple parishioners of St. Martin de Porres. Walsh noted in the letter that most of his family are parishioners of Kirkham’s parish.

The attorney countered the claims made by Olson regarding Kirkham’s resignation.

Olson said a factor in Kirkham’s removal was that no report of sexual misconduct by the Dallas priest was ever made by Kirkham — 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.

However, Walsh said Kirkham took steps to do the right thing.

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“For a number of months, Father Kirkham implored this priest to end his immoral affair for the good of his soul and to spare (the parish) irreparable harm caused by such a scandalous affair,” Walsh wrote. “Father Kirkham also expressed his concern to this priest that he was engaged in other destructive behavior that could negatively affect his ministry.”

Olson said the letter contained language and situations that were unbecoming of a priest.

Walsh countered that Kirkham was simply outlining everything the other priest told him, “with a plea (that) he (Father Kirkham) was forced to report the matter to the Dallas Diocese. Father Kirkham was following the rules and regulations established by the Dallas Diocese to voice a scandal akin to the priest sexual abuse scandal exposed in the late 1990s.”

Walsh called Olson’s removal of Kirkham retaliation.

“If your office retaliates against a priest like Father Kirkham because he is seeking to follow those rules and regulations to address the sexual misdeeds of a fellow priest, the Catholic Church is being exposed to another round of scandal,” Walsh wrote. “This is especially true in this era of the so-called ‘Me-Too Movement,’ which focuses on exposing those in power who use this power to engage in sexual activity with subordinates.”

Walsh also compared Olson’s actions to the “same destructive actions by other Catholic bishops over the past 40 years that embroiled the Catholic Church in the priest sexual abuse scandal that irreparably harmed the Church’s reputation.”

“That is,” he wrote. “The priest who sought to address the sexual misdeeds of another priest is punished, while the priest accused of sexual misconduct is moved to a new parish.”

Support for Kirkham

Without allegations or evidence that Kirkham’s ministry was negatively affected by his actions, there’s no justification for his removal, Walsh argued.

“This explains why he was forced under duress to sign a false resignation,” he wrote.

Members of the church have created a private Facebook group and public Twitter account in support of Kirkham.

The Twitter page — @FRKAdvocates — says it was formed by “a group working to get Father Richard Kirkham reinstated and to share the beauty of the Catholic Faith.”

The account’s profile picture says “Pray For Father Richard Kirkham.”

One parishioner, Sheri Jose, told the Star-Telegram she believes Kirkham is an “honest and devoted priest.”

She supports Kirkham returning to the parish.

“I have had a number of family challenges during the years, and Fr. Richard was always kind and responsive,” she said in an email. “He didn’t brush me off. In confession, he said ‘name the sin,’ don’t just hem-haw around. And his penance was always relevant ... not just the ‘one Our Father, two Hail Mary’s’ .. but a specific action or a reading from the Bible to study and pray about.”

She said Kirkham was a good role model to the children.

“It was just so obvious that Fr. Richard loved God, loved our little church, and loved his parishioners ... and we loved him. I know I am a better woman because of his guidance and counsel,” she said.

Another parishioner said he believed Kirkham was trying to stop another priest “from behaving in a bad act.”

Walsh said that he can “attest to the irreparable harm that this forced resignation would cause the good people of St. Martin de Porres.”

A Star-Telegram reporter asked to join the private Facebook group to talk to parishioners about how this decision has affected them, but the request hasn’t been approved. The group has 314 members.

In his letter, Walsh asked for Olson to reinstate Kirkham.

“I pray that you realized how egregious this looks,” Walsh wrote.

Nichole Manna, 817-390-7684, @NicholeManna