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Six women claim Austin priest abused them

November 15, 2018

AUSTIN — Six women are suing the Catholic Diocese of Austin alleging the church took no action after they reported that a priest sexually abused and harassed them for years.

In the lawsuit filed Wednesday in Travis County state district court, the six unnamed women claim the Rev. Isidore Ndagizimana hugged, touched and groped them while he was at Austin’s St. Thomas More church. They claim he would “hold women against their will” and engaged in “sexual propositions, comments and advances.” Some of the women claim they reported the abuse to the Diocese but were “silenced.” The lawsuit was filed against Ndagizimana, the diocese and Bishop Joe S. Vásquez.

The diocese said it is currently reviewing the lawsuit, but that is is “difficult” to respond to allegations “because of the lack of specificity in the lawsuit.”

“A response at this time would require the diocese to make assumptions about the allegations and the unnamed plaintiffs,” said Christian Gonzalez, a spokesman for the diocese. “Out of respect for all those involved, the diocese will respond to the allegations in its answer to the court after it is formally served with the lawsuit and had a reasonable time to investigate the claims.”

Gonzalez said Ndagizimana has been on leave since August. Vásquez, the bishop overseeing the St. Thomas More church, was attending a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday.

“Upon being notified of the lawsuit’s filing, Bishop Vásquez authorized the extension of an invitation to meet with the unnamed plaintiffs,” Gonzalez said. “He also extends his prayers for the unnamed plaintiffs.”

Some of the women say that when they first reported the abuse, Vásquez told them to trust the diocese and have patience. The suit claims the diocese gave Ndagizimana some vacation time, but that he returned to work as the church’s pastor within a few weeks. At one point, Ndagizimana also attended therapy in Houston, but returned to the parish. Ultimately, the lawsuit claims, the diocese and the bishop decided to send Ndagizimana away for short counseling and then move him to St. Mary’s church in Brenham.

“But that response is no solution; it simply starts the abusive process over again,” the lawsuit reads.

The legal filing comes as allegations of sexual abuse continue to roil the church. In Texas, all 15 dioceses said they will release the names of clergy who have been “credibly accused” of sexually abusing minors. The list, which is expected by Jan. 31, is part of the church’s effort to “protect children” and promote “health and restoration of trust.”

Sean Breen, the attorney representing the six Austin women, said that’s not enough because the church should also disclose credible accusations of sexual abuse of adults.

“A victim is a victim and both are bad,” Breen said in an interview.

The suit describes several instances of alleged abuse after Ndagizimana was appointed to the church in 2012. At least three women claim Ndagizimana groped them or made other unwanted advances while taking their confession. In one instance, a woman claimed that Ndagizimana forced her head into his groin area as she knelt for absolution. The filing does not include dates of the alleged abuse.

The plaintiffs are seeking more than $1 million in damages.

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