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Suit accuses Presbyterian minister of child sex abuse
PCUSA NEWS <PCUSA.NEWS@ecunet.org>
24 May 2002 11:39:03 -0400
Note #7177 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:
Suit accuses Presbyterian minister of child sex abuse
by Noaki Schwartz
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Reprinted with permission
MIAMI — A Presbyterian youth minister who has been teaching local children with learning disabilities is accused in a Chicago lawsuit of repeatedly sexually abusing four minor boys throughout the 1990s.
The suit filed Tuesday, May 14, claims that the Rev. Douglas R. Mason took advantage of his position as the director of a youth ministry in Chicago. From 1990 to 1999 Mason had sex with the boys while taking explicit photographs and filming them, court documents said. Mason also is accused in the lawsuit of providing alcohol and cigarettes to the minors.
The lawsuit said the abuse took place in the basement, the minister's office, a Youth Ministry van, movie theaters as well as during field trips. In addition to Mason, the Presbytery of Chicago, the Presbyterian Church (USA) Foundation and the Catholic Bishop of Chicago are defendants. The unidentified boys, who are now about 18, are asking for "fair and just compensation."
This is not the first time Mason has faced problems relating to claims of abuse.
Chicago police investigated Mason in May 1999 for unspecified abuse allegations after the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services received a call on its hotline. A spokesman for the Illinois agency said Wednesday their case was determined to be "indicated." To the agency, this means enough evidence was found to justify the claims.
The police opened its own investigation, but an arrest warrant was never issued before Mason left Chicago, Sgt. Robert Cargie said.
"I have nothing to hide," said Mason in Miami on Wednesday, adding that he is scared, numb and "doesn't have a dime. I knew about (the lawsuit) before, but I didn't know if it was just a threat."
Reluctant to comment on the specifics of the suit, Mason referred questions to his attorney Jerry Latherow in Chicago. Neither Latherow nor the Chicago Archdiocese could be reached for comment. Jerry Reynolds, the executive director of the Presbytery of Chicago, has not reviewed the lawsuit and had no comment.
Before coming to Miami about two years ago, Mason was the director of the San Marcos Youth Ministry, which reaches out to bring underprivileged youth into the fold. Mason provided "help, spiritual guidance and counseling, specifically to parishioners under the age of 18," documents said. He also provided the four boys scholarships to the local Catholic school, awarded by the Youth Ministry.
"He would routinely go in and take them out of the school sometimes for the entire day," said the boys' attorney Devon Bruce, adding that none of the parents was told Mason took their children out of school.
Both the Chicago Archdiocese and the Presbytery of Chicago were alerted in 1999 after a teacher received a tape one of the boys made for Mason in which the boy talked about sex, Bruce said. The Chicago bishop was named in the lawsuit because the Archdiocese oversees the school.
The tape launched a separate investigation into Mason, who about that time moved to an Indian reservation in South Dakota.
Eventually, Mason made his way to South Florida, where he found work as the interim associate pastor at the Miami Shores Presbyterian Church for more than a year beginning in March 2000.
While working at Miami Shores, the Presbytery of Chicago contacted church officials about their investigation into Mason, said spokeswoman Melissa Gracey. Mason did not share the nature of the claims but openly told the senior minister and congregates they had no merit, she said.
"He didn't want to leave us, and we didn't want him to leave, but the Chicago Presbytery required that he not be in a ministerial position," Gracey said, adding that, until formal findings to the contrary, Mason still has their support.
Mason left the church about June 2001. According to standard procedure at Children & Family Services, by that time Mason's name should have been entered into a database available for background checks. It is unclear whether Mason's name is on the Children's Abuse and Neglect Tracking System.
Chicago police said they still are interested in talking to Mason, though they have no plans to travel to Florida to find him.
Mason was hired to work at the Academy of the Arts at Hope, a Miami Christian performing arts school, through the end of 2001.
When the school closed, the director of the South Florida International Academy hired Mason to teach a class of 13- to 17-year-old students who have learning disabilities including dyslexia and attention deficit disorder.
Director Lise Holash called Mason "a good man, compassionate, knowledgeable and the students love him." She added in accordance with school policy Mason was never left alone with any students and "therefore we know for a fact nothing happened here."
But, shortly after Wednesday'’s interview, Holash fired Mason for what she said were problems unrelated to the lawsuit.
She said Mason was warned about his inability to discipline students and about not signing in every morning.
"Frankly, I think this thing is being extremely overblown and everyone is trying to ride on the scandal of the Catholic Church's coattail," Holash said.
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