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Assignment Record– Rev. Dennis L. Peterson

Summary of Case: Dennis L. Peterson was a priest of the Diocese of Galveston-Houston, ordained in 1973. He served in a number of Houston parishes as an assistant and, for a time, was pastor of one. A master's level social worker, Peterson founded the Houston Community Youth Center prior to ordination, in 1969. He was long-time director of Diocesan Youth Services and chaplain of of the Harris County Juvenile Detention Center. He also served on the diocesan Priests Personnel Committee.

In 1999 Peterson was placed on leave after he was accused of having sexually abused four children. One accuser claimed his abuse began in 1987 when he was age 14, and that it continued over a 10-year period. His parents had taken the boy to Peterson for counseling related to previous abuse by a Catholic Boy Scout leader. The other three were siblings - two boys and a girl - who said Peterson was a family friend in the 1970s and that he would wrestle with them in their living room and give them "wedgies." They said they were afraid because Peterson was a deputy constable and had a large collection of guns. All of Peterson's accusers said he plied them with alcohol and drugs. Another accuser filed suit in 2005, claiming Peterson raped him over the course of 72 hours in the rectory of St. Michael's in Houston. The plaintiff said Peterson took him out of the juvenile detention center where he was living and, on the way to St. Michael's, stopped to get a gun at a constable's station.

Peterson's accusers sued, but were unsuccessful because the statute of limitations required those claiming abuse as minors to file suit before age 20. Peterson died in July 2007.



Ordained
: May 5, 1973
Died: July 12, 2007


   

Start Stop Assignments Town/Accusations State Position Notes
1969 1983 Houston Community Youth Center Houston TX founder This was a residential treatment center for troubled youth.

1973

Diocese of Galveston-Houston

Bishop was Wendelin Joseph Nold (1950-1975), followed by John Louis Morkovsky (1975-1984).

1976 St. Benedict's Houston TX 3/3

 

1970s   St. Bernadette's

Houston

Three siblings, two male, one female, filed a lawsuit in 1999 alleging Peterson sexually abused them in the 1970s as children while he was assigned to St. Bernadette's. They said the priest was a family friend who would wrestle with them in their living room, and give them "wedgies," and that he would give them drugs or alcohol before abusing them. The woman claimed she told two priests about the abuse at the time. The children were reportedly afraid because Peterson was a deputy constable and had a large collection of guns in his rectory.

TX assistant Parish established in 1977.
1976 1979 Sacred Heart Co-Cathedral Houston TX 2/4  
1979 1981 Queen of Peace Houston TX 2/3 Queen of Peace had a school with 210-190 students.
    Diocesan Youth Services Houston TX Director for 17 years  

1980

Morkovsky was succeeded as Galveston-Houston bishop by Joseph Anthony Fiorenza (1984-2006).

1991 Harris County Juvenile Detention Home Houston TX Chaplain  
1981 1989 St. Michael's

Houston

In a 2005 lawsuit a man claimed that when he was a teenage runaway years before, living at a juvenile detention center, Peterson took him out, picked up a gun at a constable's station which he stuck in his boot, then took the boy to St. Michael's rectory.The man said Peterson then raped him over a 72-hour period.

TX 4/4, 3/3, 5/5
In residence
St. Michael's had a school with 473-430 students.
1981 1989 St. Raphael's Houston TX   This was a mission of St. Michael's.
1989 1991 St. Theresa's Houston TX 3/3
In residence
St. Theresa's had a school with 194 students.
    St. Ann's

Houston

Peterson was accused in a 1999 lawsuit of sexually abusing a boy over a 10-year period, 1987-1997, beginning when the boy was 14 years-old. Allegedly, the boy was taken to Peterson for counseling due to behavioral issues after he was sexually abused by a Catholic Boy Scout leader in 1983.

TX   The boy and his family were St. Bernadette's parishioners; the boy reportedly first met Peterson at St. Ann's in 1987. It is not clear that Peterson was assigned to St. Ann's or, if so, for how long.
1991 1997 St. Francis Cabrini

Houston

Reportedly, Peterson's sexual abuse of a boy over a 10-year period began in 1987 and continued throughout his time at St. Francis. Peterson was said to have plied the boy with alcohol and drugs.

TX 1/1, 1/2

St. Francis' had a religious education program with 684-803 students.

 

1994 1999 Priests Personnel Committee Houston TX   Peterson may have been on this committee prior to 1994, but the Directories list only one priest affiliated with it during that time.
1998 1999 St. John Neumann's Houston TX 3/3

St. John Neumann's had a religious education program with 356 students.

Peterson was reportedly on medical leave in May 1999 when a lawsuit was filed alleging he sexually abused a boy over a 10-year period. Peterson denied the allegations.

1997 2004 St. Theresa's Houston TX 3/3
In residence

St. Theresa's had a school with 238-224, and a religious education program with 110-315 students.

The litigation against Peterson and the diocese failed due to the state's statute of limitations which required that minors had until age 20 to file suit for abuse occurring before they were age 18.

2004 2005         Peterson is not indexed in the 2005 Directory.

2005

Fiorenza was replaced by Daniel Nicholas DiNardo (2006-).

2007 Retired/Pope John XXIII Priests' Residence Houston TX   Peterson died July 12, 2007.

Priests in a Parish: We use the following convention to show a priest's place among the clergy of a parish: 1/2 means that he is the first priest listed in the Official Catholic Directory (usually the pastor) and that there is a total of two priests at the parish. The shorthand 3/4 means that the priest is listed third on a four-priest roster. See our sample page from the Directory.

Sources: Official Catholic Directory (Kenedy & Sons, 1974-2007).

Priest Is Accused of Molesting Boy, By Ron Nissimov, Houston Chronicle, May 4, 1999
Priest, Diocese Deny Allegations of Sexual Abuse, Cover-Up, Houston Chronicle, May 5, 1999
Sexual Abuse Suit at Odds with Law Limits, By Bill Murphy, Houston Chronicle, June 18, 2000
Father Dennis Lee Peterson Obituary, Houston Chronicle via legacy.com, July 14, 2007
The Buried Abuse of the Galveston-Houston Archdiocese, By Craig Malisow, Houston Press, January 17, 2017


Note: The Official Catholic Directory aims to report the whereabouts of Catholic priests in the United States on January 1 of the Directory's publication year. Our working assumption is that a priest listed in the Directory for a given year was at the same assignment for part of the previous year as well. However, Kenedy and Sons will sometimes accept updates well into the year of publication. Diocesan clergy records are rarely available to correct this information. The Directory is also sometimes misleading or wrong. We have tried to create an accurate assignment record, given the source materials and their limitations. Assignment records are a work in progress and we are always improving the records that we post. Please email us with new information and corrections.

This assignment record collates Peterson's career history as it is represented in the Official Catholic Directory with the allegations against him, as reported in the media. We make no representation regarding the truth of the allegations we report, and we remind our readers that the U.S. legal system presumes that a person accused of or charged with a crime is innocent until proven guilty. Similarly, individuals who may be defendants in civil actions are presumed not to be liable for such claims unless a plaintiff proves otherwise. Admissions of guilt or liability are not typically a part of civil or private settlements. For more information, see our posting policy.

This assignment record was last updated on January 19, 2017.


 
 

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