A former Benedictine monk who directed a boys choir at a northwest Missouri abbey in the 1980s admitted on Thursday that he had inappropriate sexual relations with several members of the group.
Bede Parry, who led the Abbey Boy Choir of Conception Abbey from 1982 to 1987, told The Kansas City Star that he had sexual contact with five or six of the choir members as well as a student at a Minnesota university.
One of the former choir members filed a lawsuit on Thursday, contending that Parry molested him in 1987 during a summer camp at the abbey.
The lawsuit, filed against Conception Abbey by a Missouri man under the name John Doe 181, alleges that the abbey knew that Parry had sexually abused other students prior to abusing him but covered it up.
Parry is not a defendant in the lawsuit, which was filed in Maryville.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages from the abbey.
"Frankly, those allegations, most of them are true," Parry said in a phone interview with The Star from Las Vegas. "As far as I’m concerned, great harm was done to those people. To lie and not recognize that would be a gross injustice to those folks.
"The whole thing is terrible. I feel so terrible. I’m just praying for everybody, and I ask for prayers."
Most of the inappropriate sexual contact was with males over 18, Parry said. Two of the encounters, he said, involved males ages 16 to 18. He said he has not had inappropriate sexual relations since the 1987 incident.
Parry, 69, became a priest in the Episcopal church in 2004 and for the past 11 years had worked at All Saints Episcopal Church in Las Vegas, most recently holding the positions of organist, choir master and assisting priest.
He resigned Thursday and said he’d also asked to be removed from the priesthood.
Bishop Dan Edwards, of the Episcopal Diocese of Nevada, confirmed to The Star that Parry had resigned from All Saints.
"That is a done deal," Edwards said. "But resigning from the priesthood is a more complicated kind of thing. It’s a process called renouncing your orders and has to go through a disciplinary process, and I cannot comment on that disciplinary process. What I can say is that I have referred the matter to the chancellor of our diocese."
Edwards said Parry did not have contact with children or youth in his ministry at All Saints.
"Certainly we regard this situation with grave concern," he said of the lawsuit.
Jeff Anderson, a Minnesota lawyer who represents the plaintiff, called the situation "a grave institutional failure."
"Bede Parry wasn’t able to control himself, but it was the (Conception Abbey) abbot and the top officials who knew that and made the choice to protect themselves at the peril of many kids and young adults," he said.
Abbot Gregory Polan, the current head of Conception Abbey, told The Star that he could not discuss the lawsuit.
"I am aware of the situation, but at least at this point, our lawyers have asked us to simply not comment," said Polan, who was not abbot in 1987. "We are praying for all of the people involved."
Jon Haden, a Kansas City lawyer who represents Conception Abbey, also declined to comment.
Anderson said Parry should not have been allowed to continue in any church ministry in Nevada.
"This guy is in a position as a choir director, in ministry with all the officials’ knowledge, all of them keeping the secrets," he said.
Anderson said the plaintiff recently came forward because he learned that Parry was still in active ministry.
"He was led to believe Parry was out of the ministry," Anderson said. "Now he learns that the guy is in Las Vegas and in good standing and nobody knows."
Conception Abbey is a Benedictine monastery with a 30-acre campus. It is home to one of the largest Roman Catholic college seminaries in the nation and the largest priest-training center in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. The seminary, which the monks run, draws students from about two dozen dioceses in the United States.
According to the lawsuit:
Parry joined the monastic community at Conception Abbey in 1973 and lived there through 1979. In 1978 and 1979, Parry assisted with the Abbey Boy Choir as an accompanist.
From 1979 through 1982, Parry attended the St. John’s University School of Theology in Collegeville, Minn. He returned to Conception Abbey in 1982 and served as secretary to the abbot. He also taught classes at the seminary and directed the choir, made up of males ages 7 to 18. Parry was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1983.
The plaintiff attended a residential choir camp at the abbey in summer 1987, when Parry directed the choir. Parry had sexual contact with him there, according to the lawsuit. The plaintiff called his parents and told them.
They confronted the abbot, who told them that Parry had experienced a mental breakdown, for which he would be treated. But there was no mental breakdown, the lawsuit contends.
"Instead, Fr. Parry was a known serial child predator who had sexually abused numerous students before Fr. Parry sexually abused the plaintiff," it says.
According to the lawsuit, the incident was the fifth report to abbey officials of sexual abuse involving Parry.
Between 1973 and 1979, the lawsuit says, Parry told the Conception Abbey abbot that he had inappropriate sexual contact with three people at the abbey. And in 1981, the lawsuit says, Parry had sexual contact with a student at St. John’s in Minnesota. Parry admitted that misconduct to several people, including abbots at Conception and St. John’s, according to the lawsuit.
Parry stayed at St. John’s until he graduated but was required to undergo psychological treatment, the lawsuit says.
After the plaintiff reported the abuse in 1987, Parry was sent for three months of treatment at Servants of the Paraclete in New Mexico. Then he stayed in the Southwest, working at Lutheran and Catholic parishes.
In 2000, the lawsuit says, Parry underwent psychological testing because he was considering entering another Catholic monastery.
"The results of this testing revealed that Fr. Parry was a sexual abuser who had the proclivity to reoffend with minors," the lawsuit says.
The results were provided to Conception Abbey, the Catholic Diocese of Las Vegas and the Episcopal bishop for the Diocese of Nevada, the lawsuit says. Yet from 2000 until Thursday, Parry was employed by All Saints Episcopal Church in Las Vegas.
In an interview Thursday with The Star, Parry admitted the allegations.
"When I left Conception Abbey in ’87, it was for sexual misconduct," he said. "But that was all that was ever said or known."
Parry said after treatment he was placed on leave for three years, which meant he could not live in the monastery.
After serving about two years as the music director at All Saints, Parry noticed "they needed clergy, and I felt called. I talked to the bishop, and she accepted me. And I told her at the time that there was an incident of sexual misconduct at Conception Abbey in ’87. The Episcopal Church doesn’t have a ‘one strike and you’re out’ policy, so it didn’t seem like I was any particular threat. She said she’d have to check the canons, and she did."
The bishop at the time was Katharine Jefferts Schori, now presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church of the United States. Parry said, however, that he did not tell her about the incidents before 1987 at Conception Abbey.
A spokeswoman at the Episcopal Church’s national office said Thursday that "we do not comment on lawsuits or allegations" and referred questions to the diocese in Nevada.
Parry confirmed to The Star his three relationships between 1973 and 1979 at Conception Abbey and one in 1981 in Minnesota. He said he reported those incidents to then-abbot Jerome Hanus at Conception Abbey and to the abbot at St. John’s Abbey in Minnesota.
"I had to go to counseling and was told not to do anything like that again," he said, adding that the counseling was required in order for him to graduate from St. John’s.
After graduation, he said, he returned to Conception Abbey, where he became director of the boys choir.
Hanus is now head of the Archdiocese of Dubuque, Iowa. His office did not return phone calls for comment on Thursday.
Parry said he first opened up about his sexual misconduct last fall, when a Seattle area man named Pat Marker showed up at his doorstep. Marker, a sex abuse victim who had attended St. John’s Preparatory School in Minnesota, had learned about Parry while researching other cases from St. John’s.
"I confronted Bede with the allegations ... that took place at St. John’s, and he admitted to the misconduct and expressed remorse but did not disclose any information about the (Conception Abbey) boys choir at that time," Marker said. "After learning he directed the choir, I confronted him again. At first he denied anything but later admitted to misconduct."
Marker told The Star on Thursday that he was glad Parry resigned.
"In stepping down, Bede took a step that his leaders failed to take," Marker said.
On Thursday afternoon, Parry posted a note to friends and family members on his Facebook page alerting them about the lawsuit.
"At this time, I am deeply sorry for any pain that I have caused by my acts, and especially betraying your trust and friendship," he wrote.