Lawsuit filed against Austin Catholic diocese over sexual abuse

A man has filed a lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Austin, alleging the diocese and its bishops had known a priest at a North Austin church abused him when he was an altar boy and did nothing to stop it.

The man, identified only as John Doe, said the now deceased Rev. Milton Eggerling, who preached at St. Louis Church and School in the 1970s, acted as his mentor and spiritual father figure, luring him with outings and special treatment before he began sexually abusing him, according to Travis County records obtained by the American-Statesman late Friday.

Doe is seeking unspecified damages and monetary relief of more than $1 million, saying teachers, nuns and other priests at the church and school knew or should have known that Eggerling was psychologically unfit to be a priest. The diocese and its bishops, the lawsuit states, were negligent in assigning Eggerling to a position of power and privilege that he could use to molest young boys.

Austin Diocese spokesman Christian González said Saturday that Eggerling had come to the city in 1973 from a different diocese and didn’t work for the Austin Diocese. An investigation into the lawsuit’s allegations is pending and the diocese wouldn’t comment any further, he said.

“The Diocese of Austin remains committed to its safe environment program for the protection of children and young people,” González said in a statement. “Bishop Joe S. Vásquez asks for prayers for those involved in these allegations.”

The plaintiff’s counsel, Dallas attorney Tahira Khan Merritt, said that Eggerling, who preached in Austin until about 1979, was a priest for a long time and likely had more victims. Her client filed the lawsuit, she said, in hopes that they would come forward.

“I think for John Doe’s own healing, he wanted to bring these facts to light,” she said. “These cases are never about the money but holding the dioceses accountable for what they knew and when they knew it.”

Cases of child sexual abuse and cover-ups by priests, nuns, and members of Roman Catholic orders have racked the Catholic Church over the past several decades. The lawsuit points to these cases and cites an institutional pattern and practice of concealing the criminal sexual activities of predatory priests in Austin.

The abuse of Doe began shortly after Eggerling gave the 11-year-old boy a $5 “tip” for serving the Mass, a big deal for “an impressionable, vulnerable child from a broken home,” the lawsuit says. The priest later asked him to go to Barton Springs, where he asked the young boy to undress in an open changing room, and he took the child to eat and see a movie afterward, the lawsuit states.

Eggerling groomed and confused the boy through suggestive questioning on sex and Catholic doctrine that led to fondling, aggressive attempts at oral sex and sex under the pretext of “wrestling” and “horsing around,” the records say. He repeatedly told the child he loved him, spoke in detail about his masturbation habits and the guilt he felt, and said he shared his guilt with another priest, his confessor at St. Louis Church, the lawsuit states.

In January 1974, Eggerling fondled the boy as he taught him how to drive, while on another occasion, an overnight trip to San Antonio, he stopped en route to buy a case of beer, according to the records. The priest provided Doe with alcohol until he was drunk, and, when the child woke up in the rectory of a San Antonio Church, Eggerling was sleeping naked beside him, the filings state.

Other incidents followed the same pattern of abuse over a five-year period, with the sexual assaults and molestation beginning with heavy consumption of beer or hard liquor, the records say.

The lawsuit states other priests and nuns at the convent were aware or should have been aware of the “special relationship.” One of the fathers at St. Louis Church knew the boy was sleeping in Eggerling’s room, which had only one bed, and that he served the child wine with dinner; teachers knew Eggerling was taking the boy on out-of-state trips during the school year, the records state.

“Yet no one intervened,” the lawsuit states. “No one attempted to rescue Doe.”

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