Priest abuse claims led to suspension

Author: Sam Hodges
Date Published: 02/21/2007
Nicholas Katinas
Nicholas Katinas

Greek Orthodox leader retired July 1

Months of rumors ended with devastating confirmation Wednesday night that the longtime, beloved pastor of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in North Dallas was suspended over allegations of child sexual abuse.

The Rev. Nicholas Katinas led the church, a focal point of the local Greek community, for 28 years. He retired on July 1, citing illness and fatigue.

Officials of the Greek Orthodox Diocese of America suspended him within days, meaning he could no longer serve as a priest, even on a fill-in basis.

But they waited until Wednesday night to inform the congregation that accusations of child sexual abuse were the cause of the suspension.

“There is no doubt that Father Nicholas engaged in serious moral transgressions,” the Rev. Michael Kontogiorgis, assistant chancellor of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, told a hushed crowd of about 400.

Father Katinas could not be reached for comment. Holy Trinity’s administrator, Larry Wright, said the suspended priest left Monday for Greece to visit family.

Father Kontogiorgis said the complaint that led to the suspension was lodged in the “not too distant past” and arose from another parish. Father Katinas, 72, served a church in the Chicago area before coming to Dallas.

There had been no previous indication of misconduct in Father Katinas’ long tenure, Father Kontogiorgis said.

But he added, “The statements we heard were corroborated by the accuser’s childhood friends who are now well-respected professionals in other parts of the country.”

In speaking to the congregation about Father Katina’s conduct, Father Kontogiorgis used the word “minors.” He would not elaborate afterward but did confirm that he meant to use the plural.

Father Kontogiorgis told the congregation that he is also investigating a recent complaint against Father Katinas involving abuse alleged to have occurred at Holy Trinity.

A Dallas lawyer, Tahira Khan Merritt, said she represents a man who claims to have been sexually abused by Father Katinas while an altar server in 1983-85. She expects to file a lawsuit soon.

Church members said that rumors had engulfed the congregation but that it was still difficult to believe that Father Katinas had been suspended because of sexual misconduct allegations.

“It’s the last thing we would have expected,” Paul Cromidas said.

But Mr. Cromidas said the Greek Orthodox Church has not been aggressive enough in investigating complaints against priests, and he criticized the long delay in informing the congregation about the nature of Father Katinas’ suspension.

“It could have been and should have been dealt with sooner,” he said.

Another congregation member said he could not believe that Father Katinas was guilty of abusing minors.

“I’m going to go to my grave not believing it,” said Chris Canellos, 42, who grew up attending the church, spending many hours around Father Katinas. He said he would have heard long ago if Father Katinas had raised suspicions.

“This is the Greek community,” he said. “We don’t keep secrets. We would have known about it.”

Father Katinas is credited with leading Holy Trinity in its move from East Dallas to new facilities on Hillcrest in North Dallas. He’s also known for having had a high-profile role in the annual Greek Food Festival, and he has been active in interfaith work in the city.

Father Kontogiorgis referred to Father Katinas’ “wondrous” accomplishments at Holy Trinity while explaining the suspension to the congregation.

In the Orthodox church, clergy can marry, and Father Katinas is a married father and grandfather. One of his sons is a priest, church members said.

Father Kontogiorgis said Father Katinas’ suspension from clergy duties is permanent. He told the congregation that he hopes Father Katinas will seek residential counseling.

E-mail: samhodges@dallasnews.com