Abuse claims aimed at retired priest
Episcopal Diocese of Texas reveals charges dating to the '60s

James L. Tucker was a chaplain at St. Stephen's Episcopal School in Austin in the 1960s.
Steve Ueckert: Chronicle

July 11, 2007, Houston Chronicle

The Episcopal Diocese of Texas has publicly acknowledged decades-old sexual abuse claims against a retired priest who once served as rector of St. James' Episcopal Church in Houston and founded St. James' School.

Bishop Don A. Wimberly sent a letter to current and former members of the St. James' community last month informing them of the allegations against the Rev. James L. Tucker. The claims stem from incidents in the 1960s when Tucker was a chaplain at St. Stephen's Episcopal School in Austin.

The letter stated that after an investigation that began last fall, the diocese "believes that the claims have substance."

"I have sufficient reason to believe that James L. Tucker committed the offense of immorality and conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy," Wimberly wrote.

Though the charges are nearly 40 years old, the diocese wanted to unearth other possible claims against Tucker, said Carol Barnwell, diocese communication director.

"We are heartbroken to have to deal with this, but we also understand that people who are hurt can't begin to heal until you shed some light on the wounds," she said.

The bishop's findings have been sent to a six-member review committee of clergy and lay people. The committee will hire an attorney to investigate the claims. If the committee agrees with the bishop's conclusion, the case will be be sent to a church court, which can decide whether to remove Tucker from the Episcopal priesthood, among other actions.

The diocese's letter said the allegations were too old to pursue criminal charges, but the diocese informed the Travis County District Attorney.

A woman who answered the phone at Tucker's home said the was not available for comment.

At St. James', Tucker — who served at the church for 22 years until his retirement in 1992 — was a popular rector, who was know for being a "very pastoral priest" and effective fundraiser, said the Rev. Bill DeForest, who has served the church as its interim rector for the past three months and knows Tucker.

Before the letter, dated June 15, was mailed, a diocese official met with St. James' leadership and members of the church.

"I would say the congregation was thunderstruck," DeForest said. " ... The person who was described in the allegations was not the person they knew. There was a lot of disbelief."

Carole Dodson, who has been a member of St. James' for 26 years, said that based on her personal interactions "Father Tucker appeared to be a model priest," she said.

"My personal feeling is both for the victim and the accused," Dodson said. "You have to hear the victim and do what God calls us to, which is not to judge and we are to forgive."

The allegations against Tucker resurfaced in October after a comment was made at a St. Stephen's gathering of graduates, Barnwell said.

The diocese hired a Fort Worth company to investigate the allegations and found three former St. Stephen's students who accused Tucker of sexual misconduct when they were boys at the school in the late 1960s, she said.