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Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests - Tennessee




Diocese OKs priest to return to duties

Lawsuit still open against priest who serves Catholics in Jackson, Brownsville
By Tajuana Cheshier

Although a civil lawsuit against him is still pending, Father Richard Mickey will return to his duties later this month at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Jackson and St. John's Catholic Church in Brownsville.

Twin brothers Blain and Blair Chambers have accused Mickey of sexually abusing them in 1980 while they were students at Bishop Byrne High School in Memphis, according to a lawsuit the brothers filed in August in Memphis Circuit Court.

After the lawsuit was filed, Mickey was reassigned to administrative duties in Memphis pending an internal investigation by the Catholic Diocese of Memphis.

Bishop J. Terry Steib announced this week he decided the allegations against Mickey were not credible, a press release from the diocese said.  The bishop made the decision to allow Mickey to return to Jackson after he accepted a report from the Diocesan Review Board. The board's task is to advise the bishop in his assessment of allegations of sexual abuse of minors, the release said.

Mickey, who has denied the allegations, will return to the parishes on Feb. 19.

Some parents of children at St. Mary's Catholic School are accepting of the bishop's decision. Parishioners received a letter from the church this week informing them of Mickey's return.

''I think we're in America, and until proven guilty, people are innocent,'' said Sara Jojola, who has been a member of St. Mary's church for two years. ''We need to be vigilant about our children, though.''

Jojola has heard all good things about Mickey, whom she has only interacted with briefly.

''Until there are more than allegations, we have to treat him as innocent,'' she said.

Her sister, Melia Ghering, has a son in the first grade at St. Mary's.

''We have to be careful about our sons because it seems like they're being targeted,'' Ghering said. ''I'll be careful with my own.''

Ghering believes the priests at St. Mary's are especially careful about their interactions with the children.

''I feel bad for Father Mickey,'' she said. ''His name is going to be tainted, no matter what.''

Ghering hopes that church members are ''courteous and Christian'' when Mickey returns.

''I hope people will accept the decision and trust it was right,'' she said.  Meanwhile, Memphis Circuit Court clerks did not have any new information available Thursday afternoon concerning the lawsuit, and no court dates have been scheduled.

The Chambers brothers, who lived in Montana when they filed the suit, are seeking unspecified damages from Mickey, the diocese and Bishop Byrne High School, where Mickey worked as a counselor and religion instructor.

The suit says the brothers' repressed memories of the abuse surfaced for the first time when they took a fishing trip in July 2003.

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- Tajuana Cheshier, (731) 425-9758

What to know

Father Richard Mickey will return to St. Mary's and St. John's parishes the weekend of Feb. 19-20.

Bishop J. Terry Steib will celebrate Mass at St. Mary's at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 19.