Attorney of removed priest: ‘Nothing new has happened other than more unfavorable publicity’

OKLAHOMA CITY - The attorney of a Catholic priest facing an allegation of child sex abuse is sharing his side of the story.

On Sunday, the Archdiocese of Oklahoma announced Father James Mickus had been removed from ministry pending an investigation of alleged child sex abuse. Mickus, a pastor for two Catholic churches in Chandler and Stroud, has served at more than a dozen churches in Oklahoma.

We're told the allegation does not involve Mickus' current parishes.

His attorney, Stephen Jones, told News 4 he is confident the allegation stems from 2002, when Mickus was first accused and later exonerated. Mickus was informed of his removal by Archbishop Paul Coakley on Friday.

"It was an ambush. He had no idea why the Archbishop wanted to see him. He had asked. They had declined to inform him but, since he was Archbishop, Father Mickus went there," Jones said Monday. "The Archbishop was there with two other representatives from Archdiocese, and they were very vague about what they told Father Mickus, but he did ask them if this was a new allegation or the old one and they indicated it was one from several years ago, which means the old one because that’s the only one we’re aware of."

In 2002, Mickus filed a defamation lawsuit against the accuser who claimed he was sexually abused by the pastor 20 years prior. Mickus was removed from ministry and later reinstated by Archbishop Eusebius Beltran after a review board found there was no evidence to support the claim.

"Nothing new has happened other than more unfavorable publicity on the church," Jones said. "In a way, this is critical of Archbishop Beltran and the review committee, which gave a full opportunity to the accuser to make his case. He refused to participate, refused to have his lawyer participate and has never made an official statement on what occurred."

On Sunday, an Archdiocese spokeswoman told us the most recent investigation into Mickus is the first case they have taken action on since Archbishop Coakley announced in August a plan to review and report all past allegations of child sex abuse by priests.

"That’s absurd. The Archbishop doesn’t know what he’s talking about. His predecessor took action in 2002 and exonerated Father Mickus after a complete hearing," Jones said. "I don’t know if the Archbishop really knows what the facts are. He seems to be rather vague. Even the press release and the statement is very vague, so I think the question is how much does he really know? Does he know this happened? I mean, they have the records."

Jones said he will be writing a letter Monday asking Coakley for the names of members on his review committee and to preserve all of the records on the matter.

According to the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' 'Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People' requires the removal from ministry upon determination of a credible claim of sexual misconduct with a minor.

Under Oklahoma law, all individuals must report an incident or suspicion of sexual abuse of a minor to civil authorities.

Sheree Powell, a spokesperson for Oklahoma DHS, was not able to confirm whether the Archdiocese of Oklahoma has ever reported an allegation against Mickus because state law requires all reports of child abuse or neglect to be kept confidential.

According to Powell, Oklahoma law specifically states the agency only has the authority to investigate against the 'Person Responsible For the Child.'

"That typically means a parent or guardian or someone living in the family home who is helping to care for the child," Powell said. "This would include child care providers as well as foster parents. It would not include teachers, pastors/priests, coaches."

Diane Clay, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, told News 4 they would not have any further statements until the review is complete.

The Archdiocese provides an Abuse of Minors Pastoral Response Hotline for reporting abuse of a minor (in the past or present) by a member of the clergy or other church personnel, which can be accessed by calling 405-720-9878. The archdiocesan victim assistance coordinator, a licensed professional counselor, will respond to calls to the pastoral hotline.