FORT WORTH, Texas — After being out of ministry for nearly four years, a Jesuit priest devoted to teaching and high school administration was cleared of a sexual abuse charge leveled against him in 2019.
The civil case against Father Patrick Hough was dismissed after his accuser acknowledged that he had misidentified the former associate pastor as the man who molested him in 2011 when he was a 17-year-old performing community service work.
Ordained to the priesthood June 4, 2011, he is a member of the U.S. Central and Southern Province of the Society of Jesus, which released a statement announcing that Father Hough, now exonerated, will return to public ministry as soon as possible. He had no prior accusations of abuse or impropriety.
Throughout the ordeal, the priest denied the allegations and had the complete support of his provincials, Jesuit Fathers Ronald A. Mercier and Thomas P. Greene.
The province covers 13 states, including Texas, and while Father Hough has never served in the Diocese of Fort Worth, Bishop Michael F. Olson said in statement the priest’s “perseverance through such a painful experience of a false allegation and assault on his reputation is a share in the cross of Christ and manifests a brave commitment to the truth with trust in God.”
“In our solemn commitment to protect the vulnerable and to provide a safe environment we must also stand firmly for justice, due process, and against false allegations that in themselves show insensitivity and insult to legitimate victims of sexual abuse and misconduct,” he continued.
“Father Hough has lived a nightmare for nearly four years, being falsely accused of sexually abusing a minor,” Father Greene commented. “He has suffered a great deal, yet he has always conducted himself with grace and great faith that the truth would prevail.”
Before the abuse allegations against Father Hough were made, he taught history, theology, and music in various Jesuit high schools around the world and served as a development associate for Regis High School in New York City.
Father Hough said he appreciated the support received from fellow Jesuits, former students, and family during the investigation and credits an amazing legal team for fighting to prove his innocence.
“I am so grateful to God for giving me the grace to get through this very difficult chapter of my life,” he said. “To him goes the glory for having rescued me. I love being a priest and look forward to serving the people of God again in public ministry.”
In accordance with requirements outlined in the 2018 revised “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” adopted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, once a claim of sexual abuse was made, Father Hough could not function as a priest until allegations against him were withdrawn or proven false. His religious superiors assigned him internal duties within the order, and he could not teach or minister to minors.
In the Diocese of Fort Worth, protecting children, youth, and vulnerable individuals is the highest priority.
“To create a safe environment where all can safely worship, learn, and engage in parish life, the diocese instituted a thorough vetting process and Code of Conduct,” said Sandra Schrader-Farry, director of safe environment for the Diocese of Fort Worth. “All clergy, employees and volunteers engaged in ministry undergo a criminal background check and receive training on identifying and reporting concerning behavior or signs of abuse.”
Children attending a diocesan school or religious education program also learn how to keep themselves safe and report uncomfortable behavior or abuse.
A priest or deacon accused of sexual abuse of a minor is presumed innocent during the investigation and steps are taken to protect his reputation. If an allegation is proven false, efforts are made to restore his good name if it was harmed.
Vigorously investigating all abuse claims, whether they seem credible or not, ensures further abuse and harm doesn’t occur.
“Without thoroughly investigating reports of abuse, a culture where abuse is tolerated, and possibly concealed, may be created,” Schrader-Farry added. “Having a process where both victims and alleged perpetrators are heard promotes justice being served.”