A former volunteer for the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth has filed suit, alleging the diocese and four of its officials “defamed his reputation” with “various documents that individually and taken as a whole, accuse him of being a child molester and/or pedophile and/or sexual abuser.” Those accusations are false, according to the petition that plaintiff Joseph Jordan filed on Dec. 10, 2012, in the 352nd District Court in Fort Worth.
On Jan. 7, all the defendants in Joseph Jordan v. The Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth, et al. filed an answer denying the allegations. In addition to the diocese, those defendants include the Most Reverend Kevin Vann, Reverend Monsignor Stephen Berg, Reverend Monsignor E. James Hart and Gabe Gutierrez.
Prior to the alleged defamation against his reputation, Jordan alleges in the petition, he was “a longstanding member of the Catholic Church,” who with his wife began working with youth in the church more than 22 years ago. But, he continues, his “life as a Catholic was destroyed” on July 27, 2012, when Berg read Jordan a letter in Berg’s office. That letter accused Jordan of “boundary violations involving youth and young adults ‘in the last few weeks’ ” and advised Jordan that he could not serve as a volunteer with “ children or young people in parishes, schools or other ministries within the Diocese of Fort Worth.”
After that July meeting, Jordan continues in the petition, Berg sent an email to “Priests, Principals and Central Office Staff” of the diocese with a subject line that read “Volunteer Removed from Ministry to Youth and Young People” and that stated, ” ‘This is to inform you of the removal of volunteer privileges with youth and young adults for Mr. Joseph Jordan. Mr. Jordan is not eligible to attend or participate in any youth or young people’s events within, associated with or sponsored by, the Diocese of Fort Worth.’ “
The petition brings a defamation cause of action and seeks damages, including punitive damages for gross negligence.
Mark Hatten, a partner in Shannon, Gracey, Ratliff & Miller in Fort Worth, represents all the defendants and declines comment.
But in the defendants’ answer, they argue that Jordan’s defamation claim is “barred because the statements regarding removal of the Plaintiffs volunteer privileges are true.” They continue, “To whatever extent Defendants are responsible for the publication of these statements, they acted in good faith, honestly, and without malice.”
Larry D. Thompson, a partner in Fort Worth’s Lorance & Thompson, represents Jordan. Thompson says he learned about Jordan’s situation in July 2012 from “a friend of a friend.” After meeting with Jordan, Thompson says, “I was satisfied his life revolved around the Catholic Church.”
Thompson says he subsequently tried to learn more from church representatives about what specific allegations caused the church to bar Jordan from volunteering.
“I told them, ‘If you will just give me some idea what this is about,’ ” Thompson recalls.
But, he says, he got no answers and, as a result, Jordan filed suit because “hopefully this is the way we can get some type of resolution.”
He says his client was barred from volunteering and his reputation was ruined without any type of due process and no participation in any kind of investigation.
“We might eventually get to the bottom of this,” Thompson says.