COLLLEGE STATION, Tex. (KBTX)- KBTX has confirmed St. Mary's Catholic Center in College Station is at the center of an investigation involving a visiting priest.
The Legionaries of Christ on Saturday released a public statement regarding the ongoing investigation into Father Michael Sullivan.
Father Michael Sullivan was well-known among the congregation of mostly A&M students and was in and out of the parish for the last decade.
On Saturday, a Georgia-based group for men studying the priesthood called Legionaries of Christ confirmed its internal investigation of Father Sullivan. They say an adult female visiting St. Mary's came forward with claims the he "crossed over the emotional physical boundaries of a pastoral relationship with her and others."
On Wednesday, the Legionaries said a third-party group was actively investigating the latest allegation, and while he may have violated their own code of conduct, they don't believe any laws were broken.
The organization also said no law enforcement agency has been invited to assist in its on-going fact-finding mission.
This isn't the first time the Legionaries have had to investigate Sullivan.
Two years ago, two women came forward and said they had strong concerns about his behavior. One of them was in high school at the time and she showed affection and favoritism, KBTX has confirmed.
A spokeswoman for the Legionaries said those two cases were not physical boundary violations, nor were they sexual in nature. She also confirmed Sullivan was briefly removed from ministry and began therapy, but then returned to Texas to continue working with young adults across the state, including the congregation at St. Mary's.
To that, the spokeswoman for the Legionaries of Christ said Wednesday, "In hindsight, we now understand that additional restrictions should have been placed on Father Sullivan prior to returning to ministry."
Father Sullivan is no longer in active ministry and is currently receiving in-patient counseling at a treatment center. The Legionaries said if its investigation finds there was criminal conduct then they'll reach out to law enforcement.
Click here to read the full statement from Regnum Christi Legionaries of Christ.
Click here to read the statement on the matter from the Diocese of Austin.
If you wish to make a report regarding Rev. Sullivan, please call Emily Hurlimann with the Diocese of Austin at (512) 949-2447.
After news broke of the investigation, News 3's Rusty Surette submitted a list of questions about the matter to Regnum Christi & Legionaries of Christ Director of Marketing & Communications Gail Gore.
She immediately responded to our inquiry and provided the following answers to all our questions.
Did any of the misconduct occur at St. Mary's Catholic Center in College Station? If so, can you be more specific when it occurred?
I can say that in our preliminary investigation we did receive, to the best of my knowledge, at least one allegation from an adult female, who was not a parishioner of St. Mary’s Catholic Center, regarding misconduct by Fr. Sullivan, LC, while they were both visiting St. Mary’s.
We have contracted a third party to investigate and we will communicate more about the findings when the investigation is complete.
In the accusations that surfaced in November 2017, one of the accusers said the misconduct began in her "youth". Can you be more specific on an age?
We have enlisted a third-party investigator to ascertain all the facts regarding what happened, including the exact age of the individual. We know that the individual was in high-school when she alleges the misconduct started.
I can tell you that the specific violations reported to us in 2017 were not physical boundary violations, nor were they sexual in nature. The allegations, as stated in the letter from Fr. John Connor, LC, are that Fr. Michael Sullivan, LC, showed “affection and favoritism toward one of them in her youth which continued into adulthood.”
Fr. Sullivan violated the Legionaries of Christ Code of Conduct.
After receiving his therapy following the Nov. 2017 allegations, was Fr. Sullivan placed back into the same Church where his accusers worked/attended?
Fr. Sullivan is not a diocesan priest and does not work for a particular parish. Fr. Sullivan and the 2017 claimants did not work at an institution together either. He worked as the Legionaries of Christ vocations director from 2009 until 2016.
He mainly worked with college students and young adults in Dallas, College Station and Houston, Texas during that time.
However, in 2016 he became the Texas Director of ConQuest and served in that role until November 4, 2019, primarily working with middle-school and high-school-aged boys in Houston and Austin, Texas. However, at times he also worked with college students and young adults.
Following the 2017 allegations Fr. Sullivan was removed from ministry for a period of time, received a week-long psychological assessment with an experienced psychologist and started ongoing and frequent therapy to which he continued receiving after returning to ministry.
After returning to the ministry he continued working primarily with middle-school and high-school-aged boys, and on occasion with college students and young adults. In hindsight, we now understand that additional restrictions should have been placed on Fr. Sullivan prior to returning to ministry.
We understand the investigation centers around a possible code of conduct violation for your organization, is there any belief that Fr. Sullivan broke any laws?
At this time we don’t believe any laws have been broken. We are conducting a thorough investigation, with a third party, to confirm that belief both in the interest of the complainants and of Fr. Sullivan, who is entitled to a fair and thorough evaluation of the complaints.
Have you invited any law enforcement agency to assist you in your investigations - past or present- to help with your investigation into the claims of misconduct by these women?
We have not asked for law enforcement assistance with regards to this case. If we obtain a different set of facts in the future we would revisit that decision. We take the claims very seriously and have hired a third-party investigator to conduct the investigations.
Has any other outside third-party group assisted with any of these investigations?
As stated above, we have contracted with an independent, secular, investigations firm to assist.
In the statement released December 7 by Fr. Connor, he says the misconduct "mainly affected women." Can you be more specific about whom else the misconduct affected?
In addition to the women who are mainly affected, it affects their family, their community and the Church at large. It also affects the priesthood. Priests are naturally held to higher standards and should be, so one inappropriate act by a priest damages the trust that countless people place in all priests and the Church, affecting so many people’s faith life.
We have high standards of conduct, and what is “inappropriate” may still be well within the law, but outside of the expectations, we have for priests in their dealings with others. In part because, when emotional and/or physical boundaries are crossed by a priest the harm that is done reaches beyond the victim.
Can you tell me if Fr. Conner has already visited St Mary's or has plans to during his visit to Texas?
The Territorial Director for the Legionaries of Christ, Fr. John Connor has not yet visited St. Mary’s Catholic Center but he has reached out to the pastor there. Also, in November one of the Legionaries of Christ did speak with the pastor regarding the recent allegations. As stated above, the recent claimant is not a parishioner of St. Mary’s though she alleges the misconduct occurred at St. Mary’s while she was visiting the parish.
During this visit to Texas Fr. Connor has been meeting with those most closely affected, including the women who have come forward with claims in 2017 and most recently.