ENID, Okla. — Two priests with ties to Enid and northwest Oklahoma are among 11 priests found to have substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of minors, in a report released Thursday.
The law firm of McAfee & Taft released the report of its independent investigation into how the Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City handled and responded to allegations of sexual abuse of minors by priests dating back to the 1960s.
Archbishop Paul Coakley commissioned the report last August, after a Pennsylvania grand jury report detailed clergy abuse of more than 1,000 victims by more than 300 priests there, dating back to 1947.
McAfee & Taft's completed 77-page report identifies 11 priests who faced substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of minors between 1960 and 2018. Those 11 were identified from examination of records of 545 priests who served in the archdiocese during that period.
The 11 priests identified in the report are Thomas Behnke, David Armstead Cowden, Stephen Cude, Mathias Faue, David Imming, Francis Mantica, James Mickus, Rocco Perone, Edward Prather, Francis Rapp and Benjamin Zoeller.
At least two of the priests named in the report, Imming and Mickus, have ties to the Catholic community in Enid. No charges have been filed against Imming or Mickus.
In 2003, Oklahoma City attorney Philip Schovanec filed a lawsuit against the archdiocese, then-Archbishop Eusebius Beltran and Imming.
The lawsuit stated Imming, who was assigned to churches in Enid and Alva, was forced to retire following another sexual abuse complaint filed by a different young male parishioner involving the same period of time that Imming allegedly abused Schovanec.
McAfee & Taft, in their review, found in early 1992, "it appears that there was an allegation of attempted child sexual abuse raised against Fr. Imming, though there is no written record created by the Archdiocese identifying the alleged victim or circumstances, and there is no record of any investigation being performed."
Imming was sent to a pastoral center for diagnosis and treatment in February 1992, according to the report, but continued serving as a priest when he returned.
From 1992 to 2002, recommended follow-up on Imming's case by the archdiocese was never documented, according to the report.
In April 2002, Imming was permitted to retire to St. Mary's, Kan., and his faculties to serve as a priest in the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City were rescinded effective June 18, 2002.
Another allegation of sexual abuse of a minor against Imming was received in May 2003, according to the report, but was not documented in Imming’s priest file.
In 2009, the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City settled its lawsuit with Schovanec.
In October 2010, Beltran contacted Imming, according to the report, "in light of concerns raised by the Archdiocese of Kansas City ... to address concerns that Fr. Imming had been hiring minors from the local high school in Saint Mary's, Kansas ... for a landscaping/handyman business operated by Imming at the time."
Imming, a former priest at St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church in Enid, subsequently agreed to be and was laicized, or removed from the priesthood, on June 10, 2011.
In 2002, when Mickus was pastor at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Enid, an adult alleged Mickus sexually abused him when he was a teenager and young adult, some 20 years before in a former parish.
Mickus was removed from ministry at that time but was reinstated in March 2003 after it was reported by Beltran that an archdiocese review board determined there was insufficient evidence for his removal.
In its report, McAfee & Taft found Beltran misled the public about Mickus and the allegations, when Mickus was reinstated in 2003.
"During our interview with him, Archbishop Beltran admitted that his March 14, 2003 statement was materially false and misleading," the report stated. "Archbishop Beltran agreed that the press release created the false impression that the Review Board had (a) found the allegation against Fr. Mickus to be unsubstantiated; and (b) approved of his decision to reinstate Fr. Mickus.
"In reality," the report continued, "the Review Board said it had lingering concerns and was therefore unable to issue findings or make a recommendation as to Fr. Mickus’ suitability for ministry.
"There is no evidence in the file or from our witness interviews that the Archdiocese conducted an investigation into the alleged victim’s allegation," the report stated.
In 2005, during a defamation lawsuit brought by the alleged victim, audio tapes, which McAfee & Taft found to be "authentic and accurate," were produced that the report states McAfee & Taft believes "support the alleged victim’s allegation that he was sexually abused as a minor by Fr. Mickus."
According to the report, there is "no evidence that the Archdiocese took any action on the audio tapes until more than a year after receiving them in June 2005, when Archbishop Beltran learned in November 2006 that the alleged victim was discussing the existence of the tapes/transcripts in public."
Efforts were launched by the archdiocese to remove Mickus on the basis of "psychic illness," but those efforts were stopped in 2007 and Mickus was allowed to remain an active priest until his suspension in November 2018. Mickus remains in a suspended status, according to the report.
Read the full McAfee & Taft report by double-clicking on this PDF:
McAfee & Taft attorney Ronald Shinn, who led the investigation, characterized it as "a thorough, independent investigation."
“It should be noted the archdiocese was under no obligation to initiate this outside investigation, and that by doing so, it subjected itself to independent review and criticism of its past actions," Shinn wrote in a press release. "While this investigation and our report address difficult and painful issues, we hope the public will commend the archdiocese’s transparency and accountability.”
In the press release, Shinn said the report found the archdiocese "conducted inconsistent and inadequate investigations into past allegations of sexual abuse of minors, failed to follow its own policies and procedures in some instances, and had inadequate record-keeping policies and systems that made it difficult to make informed decisions.”
The report includes several recommendations for the archdiocese, including:
• Engaging a qualified independent investigator to review allegations of sexual abuse of minors and report to the Archdiocesan Review Board
• Taking steps to improve record-keeping regarding allegations of abuse
• Implementing a written record retention policy and acquiring a more robust record-keeping system
• Publicly reporting the findings and actions of the archdiocese when it makes decisions relating to allegations of sexual abuse of minors
• Clarifying that all Archdiocesan personnel should immediately report any concerns about the sexual abuse of minors
In response to the report and its recommendations, Archbishop Paul Coakley wrote a letter to the archdiocese, stating "My heart breaks to have to write this letter."
"The long and the short of it is you trusted us, and we failed," Coakley wrote. "Though we have made significant progress on many fronts since the 2002 publication of the U.S. bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, we must do better."
Coakley personally apologized for the past failures of the archdiocese to adequately investigate and address allegations of abuse.
"I want to begin by expressing my profound sorrow and most sincere apologies to each person who has ever been a victim of sexual abuse by anyone representing the Church," Coakley wrote. "I also am sorry for the complicity and negligence of those who failed to respond adequately to reports of abuse, for whatever reason, whether they are bishops, priests, deacons, religious or lay persons representing the Church."
He went to acknowledge the impact that "complicity and negligence" has had on trust in the church as an institution of faith.
"I recognize the damage that has been done to the faithful whose trust and faith have been shaken by the sins of their leaders," he wrote.
In response, Coakley said "a new level of transparency and accountability is required to demonstrate the seriousness of our commitment to creating and maintaining safe environments and addressing the sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults by clergy."
Coakley urged anyone "abused by a member of the clergy or anyone representing the Church, please call the Archdiocesan Pastoral Response Hotline – (405) 720-9878."
The pastoral hotline does not relieve individuals of their obligation under Oklahoma law to report to civil authorities any incident or suspicion of sexual abuse of a minor.
Oklahoma Department of Human Services has established a statewide abuse reporting hotline at (800) 522-3511.
Release of the report Thursday brought conflicting reactions from those following the report, and the priests it details.
David Clohessy, former national director of St. Louis, Mo.-based Survivor's Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), sent a statement to the News & Eagle aimed directly at Mickus.
"We hope every single person who saw, suspected of suffered crimes or misdeeds by this corrupt cleric will come forward, get help and call police," Clohessy wrote. "We believe his defamation suits and threats of such litigation are just designed to scare other victims, witnesses and whistleblowers into staying silent."
Enid attorney Stephen Jones, who represented both Imming and Mickus, had a different take on the report.
"The McAfee & Taft report is a disgrace, it is false and accusatory against people who are deceased and not able to defend themselves," Jones said.
Jones said Imming was "investigated thoroughly" in 2002 and 2003, and was "a very valued priest" who had "a very strong congregation that supported him."
As for Mickus, Jones said reports of abuse alleged against him were found to be "uncorroborated and not supported" and Mickus was "exonerated by the archdiocese."
Jones called into question the motives of the archdiocese in commissioning and releasing the report.
"Archbishop Coakley wishes to climb the ecclesiastical ladder of promotion, so he's hired a law firm to write this report," Jones said.
He went on to question McAfee & Taft's handling of the report.
"McAfee & Taft does a lot of business for the archdiocese," Jones said. "They get hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees, and this report is not independent and is not the full truth."
Jones said he and Mickus are considering legal options in the wake of the report.
"We are weighing the possibility the archbishop has committed defamation," Jones said, "in that he left out facts that are not really in dispute, to make a statement against Fr. Mickus."
More information coming in
McAfee & Taft has yet to complete review of materials submitted to the firm by former archdiocese outside counsel Doug Eason, including "37 boxes of Archdiocese records and two electronic devices" delivered to the archdiocese on Tuesday.
McAfee & Taft stated in its press release additional records may be forthcoming, and "if warranted in the firm’s independent judgment," a supplemental report may be issued with any additional findings.