Catholic Church returned convicted priest to Sierra Leone villages where he had preyed on boys

By Michelle Faul, AP
Saturday, May 8, 2010

Catholics sent predator priest to remote village

MAKANKA, Sierra Leone — A rutted red dirt track leads to the “bar,” a couple of homemade wood benches in the shade of an old tree dripping with wild mangoes. Within easy reach, there’s a yellow plastic jerry can of the fiery palm wine the American priest loved.

A 40-year-old schoolteacher now charges that the Rev. James Tully gave the palm wine to teenage boys to make them more susceptible to his advances.

This faraway corner of West Africa — with no electricity or piped water — is where the Roman Catholic Church sent Tully, twice. The teacher told The Associated Press that Tully abused him and other boys repeatedly during his first stint in Sierra Leone, from 1979 to 1985. After a conviction in the U.S. for giving minors alcohol and groping them, the church sent Tully back to Sierra Leone for a second stint from 1994 to 1998.

Tully’s story is an example of how the church transferred abusive priests from country to country, in a scandal now emerging worldwide. But it also shows the deep reluctance to come out against a Catholic priest in many parts of Africa.

Catholic Archbishop Buti Tlhagale of Johannesburg cautioned this month that the scandals in the church were not particular to the United States and Europe.

“It simply means that the misbehavior of priests in Africa has not been exposed to the same glare of the media as in other parts of the world,” Tlhagale said.


The shade and occasional breeze are the only relief from the unrelenting 100-degree (38-degree Celsius) heat matched by 100 percent humidity that has men lifting their shirts to fan bellies and black skin glistening with sweat. The only sound is the chirping of long-billed birds attracted to a nearby rice paddy.

It was in these villages that Tully demanded oral sex, called “lollipopping” in the Krio dialect, the teacher said.

“He would want us to play with his penis, to arouse him; not even to just play with it but to put it in your mouth,” said the teacher, who asked to remain anonymous because he works at a Catholic school and fears he could be fired.

Asked if the sex had gone any further, tears welled in the teacher’s eyes and he turned away: “I don’t want to remember that. After all these years, I still can’t talk about it. It makes me hot all over.”

Tully would not comment about these accusations when approached by The Associated Press in New Jersey, where he now lives. The Catholic Church says it never received any complaints about Tully’s behavior in Sierra Leone.

“No family member or friends or associates of any victim that was sexually abused has come forward to inform or report to me that he has been sexually abused by Father Tully,” said Bishop Giorgio Biguzzi of Makeni, who was bishop through all the years Tully was based in his northern diocese.

Such responses do not surprise the Sierra Leonean schoolteacher.

“Who would believe a young village boy over a white priest?” he asked.

He complained about the abuse to his uncle, who had helped bring him up after his father died. “My uncle pleaded with me, asking me if I couldn’t ‘cope’ with this thing since it was the only way for me to get an education.”

At least one boy refused to put up with it, according to a police officer from Kamakwei, a northern town near the border with Guinea.

The officer, who asked not to be identified because he is Catholic and fears being shunned by the church, said his cousin and several other youngsters lived in the parish priest’s house in Kamalo, where Tully was based in the 1980s.

His cousin lived there for two years with other boys who were receiving scholarships from Tully. The compound was always filled with boys, sometimes playing soccer, and Tully rode around with them on the back of his pickup truck.

That was a familiar sight in many villages, according to more than two dozen people interviewed by the AP. Tully took boys with him on weekend trips to villages where he built up schools and churches, and stayed overnight so he could say Mass on Sundays.

Tully had picked the cousin out as the brightest student in Kamakwie when he was about 14, and told the family he would take care of his education if they let him come to Kamalo. But after two years “(my cousin) ran away and came home. He told us that the priest was always calling him to lie in his bed and urging him to caress him.”

The family did nothing, the policeman said, “because we were not sure whether we should believe the boy, and also the status of the man was high.” He said Tully was the top-ranking Catholic in the area, and headmasters at Catholic schools there reported to him.

He said his cousin completed his education at the Catholic school in Kamakwie but was killed by rebels during the war.

Tully left Sierra Leone for the United States in 1985. There, a seminarian in Milwaukee, William Nash, accused Tully of abusing him between 1986 and 1988. In 2005, Nash received a $75,000 out-of-court settlement from the Xaverians, though Tully did not admit to any wrongdoing.

“I had my own experience and I was horrified about it. I’m angry that the church has allowed a man to function in the church in this religious order for 30 years. And that’s criminal,” Nash told the AP in a telephone interview from his home in western Massachusetts.

In the early 1990s, Tully also was accused of escorting three teenage boys to a baseball game in Franklin, Wisconsin, giving them alcohol and groping one of the youths. Tully signed an affidavit that said, “I am pleading no contest because I understand what I am charged with and believe I would be found guilty.”

He was convicted of disorderly conduct in 1992. He was sentenced to two years’ probation and barred from unsupervised contact with juveniles.

Tully was transferred to the Institute of the Living in Hartford, Connecticut, which specializes in sexual disorders and has treated hundreds of priests. There he received psychotherapy and made “very good progress,” according to a letter from the institute to the Wisconsin court.

“He has never denied responsibility for his sexual behavior and has come to realize the damage that this has inflicted on the others,” says the May 1992 letter.

The Rev. Carl Chudy, current U.S. superior of the Xaverian Missionaries order based in Wayne, New Jersey, said Tully’s therapist said he could return to Africa so long as he had supervised encounters with youth, therapy and ongoing support.

“I assume Sierra Leone agreed to this because when his probation was over, he left,” Chudy said.

Yet the church sent him back to Sierra Leone apparently without ever investigating his activities there. And most of his work was with teenagers — organizing soccer teams, drama clubs and choirs in scrabble-poor villages.

He left in 1998, when he was evacuated during the nation’s brutal 10-year civil war.

The Xaverians finally laicized Tully in February 2009, after Nash, the Wisconsin seminarian, went on a mission to have him defrocked. Chudy said the decision was Tully’s and was approved by the pope last year.

Chudy said there is a very strict policy in place today: “In the past obvious missteps were made due to what was known at the time. We are quite committed to protecting young people from the few who have caused such great damage,” he said.

Rev. Carlo Girola, an official of the Xaverians’ general administration in Rome, said there were no accusations or suspicions regarding Tully’s first stay in Sierra Leone to make the Xaverians feel they had to investigate.

Girola said the regional supervisor in Sierra Leone, Father Piero Lazzarini, was informed about the “situation and conditions” imposed for Tully’s return to the country. Lazzarini spoke of this to Father Luigi Brioni, the pastor in Magburaka where Tully was then sent. According to Girola, Brioni “never informed Lazzarini of any incidents related to this problem.”

Some who worked with Tully for years in Sierra Leone praised his good works.

“I know him as someone who was always assisting children, paying their school fees, helping them get into college,” said Ahmed Polo Samura, a human rights activist and child protection officer in Kamakwie who knew Tully from the time he was an altar boy in church.

Mark Saidu, a farmer in Makali, said Tully converted him from Islam when he was 14 years old in 1984 and helped pay for his education at Catholic schools.

“Father Jim had lots and lots of friends. He was a man who loved to socialize,” Saidu said. “And he was popular around here because he would travel around with a generator and show films in the villages. And with the soccer competitions, that could be the only entertainment people would have for months.”

Augustine Sorie Bangura is described by many as Tully’s greatest friend in Sierra Leone. Bangura, 48, said Tully encouraged him to write letters to the priest’s friends in the United States to garner donations that built the first health clinic to the village. Before that, people had to walk 16 miles (26 kilometers) to the hospital in Kamalo.

Bangura and many others spoke of Tully’s love of strong liquor, some said to the point of incoherent drunkenness.

“He would use palm wine to get people together to evangelize them, and he would also use palm wine to encourage the youths to join us in singing. That man loved palm wine,” said choir master John Abdulai Kamara.

Some, though, say Tully’s use of palm wine was more sinister: “He would take us boys to go palm wine drinking and would always encourage us to drink, saying, ‘It’s nice. Have some more.’ You could say he lured us into drinking, and that stuff is so strong that just one sip can make your head spin,” said the teacher who told the AP Tully molested him.

The teacher said he has long been disillusioned with the Catholic Church. “They shattered my dreams,” he said.

The man studied to become a monk and teacher with the Irish-based Christian Brothers order, but said he left when the head of the seminary tried to abuse him.

The teacher said that if victims of sexual abuse by priests were assured they would not be punished for telling the truth, “you would see many, many, many people coming forward.”

Carley Petesch reported from Johannesburg. Associated Press writer Frances D’Emilio in Rome and David Porter in Wayne, New Jersey contributed to this report.

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