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Priests accused of sexual assault served at churches in Dan River Region

Priests accused of sexual assault served at churches in Dan River Region

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At least four Catholic clergymen accused of sexual assault against minors once served at churches in Danville and Pittsylvania County.

All of the clergymen — including three priests and a monsignor — are dead, according to the Catholic Diocese of Richmond’s website that includes a list of the accused clergy.

Those listed on the website who served at churches in the Dan River Region are monsignor Carroll T. Dozier, Father Austin Ryder, Father Thomas D. Sykes and Father Philip J. Higgins.

Dozier, Ryder and Sykes served at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Danville. Monsignor Dozier was an administrator there in 1950, Ryder served as priest from 1970-72 and Sykes was a priest at Sacred Heart in 1978, according to a list of the church’s past clergy provided to the Danville Register & Bee by Father Jonathan Goertz, the church’s current priest. Goertz handed the church directory to the Register & Bee and pointed out the names of accused priests on the list.

Officials at Sacred Heart referred questions to the Richmond Diocese, which includes Sacred Heart and St. Victoria Catholic Church in Hurt in northern Pittsylvania County.

According to a list of priests on the website for St. Victoria Catholic Church, Higgins served there from 1985-94.

Father Jim Gallagher, the church’s current priest, said he knew Higgins after Higgins had retired. He said he met him on about three occasions in 2006 and 2007, including at a lunch with friends.

Higgins died in 2007, according to the Richmond Diocese website.

“My impression was that he is an old man that’s lonely,” Gallagher said during an interview Tuesday. “His friends were taking him out to lunch so he wouldn’t be lonely.”

Gallagher, who has been a priest at St. Victoria for 14 years, said he did not know anything about sexual assault allegations against Higgins until he saw his name listed on the Richmond Diocese website in March.

“It was a surprise to me that this had happened,” he said of seeing Higgins’ name listed.

According to the Richmond Diocese website, Higgins was born in 1937 and ordained in 1973 before being removed in 2004. Before serving at St. Victoria, he had been assigned at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Richmond.

No other information is provided about Higgins on the site.

“We’re not getting into specifics of the cases,” Richmond Diocese Spokeswoman Deborah Cox told the Danville Register & Bee. “That’s just out of respect for the [sexual assault] survivors.”

The list of clergy, first published on the Richmond Diocese website in February, includes names of those who have served in the diocese “and have a credible and substantiated allegation of sexual abuse involving a minor.”

The list has been updated with more names since it first appeared.

“By publishing this list, we can help bring about healing to those who have experienced abuse in the Church and heighten the awareness of this tragic situation,” Barry C. Knestout, bishop of Richmond, wrote in a letter online announcing the list on Feb. 13.

As of Tuesday, there were 49 clergy members listed on the site.

Dozier’s history on the Richmond Diocese website listed assignments at Christ the King Catholic Church in Norfolk, Saint Joseph Catholic Church in Petersburg and St. Victoria in Hurt.

However, St. Victoria’s list of past clergy for its church does not include Dozier’s name, but Sacred Heart’s list does.

Terry McKiernan, president of Bishop Accountability, a database that lists the names of clergy publicly accused of sex crimes in the U.S., said there can be complexities in a priest’s assignment history that can slow down his research.

“Assignment history can be pretty straightforward or complicated,” said McKiernan, who started Bishop in 2003, shortly after the nationwide reporting of sexual abuse of minors in the Catholic Church.

“It takes us from half a day to a full eight-hour day to do one complete assignment history for a priest,” McKiernan said.

Sykes died in 2002, Ryder died in 1981, and Dozier died in 1985, according to the Richmond Diocese website.

Crane reports for the Register & Bee. He can be reached at (434) 791-7987.

Crane reports for the Register & Bee. He can be reached at (434) 791-7987.


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