Carmel priest sues local diocese, church leadership for defamation, fraud 


A Catholic priest is suing the local diocese and church leaders for defamation and fraud, claiming they misled parishioners and the public about the nature of allegations of “inappropriate conduct with a minor” when publicly announcing his suspension in March 2022.

The Rev. James DeOreo filed the lawsuit against the Diocese of Lafayette-in-Indiana and the Rev. Theodore Dudzinski, vicar general of the diocese, March 8 in Boone County. DeOreo, a priest at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, who previously served at St. Alphonsus Catholic Church in Zionsville, is seeking $10 million in damages.

“It is unfortunate that this litigation against the Diocese and Fr. Dudzinski is necessary,” stated Michael Einterz, DeOreo’s lawyer, in a press release. “Fr. DeOreo offered the Diocese an opportunity to work to restore his reputation while still retaining the option to pursue legal action if such steps were not forthcoming. The Diocese rejected that offer, which left Fr. DeOreo with no choice but to use the courts to restore his good name and reputation.”

A spokesperson for the Diocese of Lafayette-in-Indiana declined to comment on pending litigation, instead requesting prayer for those affected.

According to the suit, in January 2021, a parishioner of St. Alphonsus, identified as the complainer, accused DeOreo of causing him to develop an eating disorder after the priest encouraged him to fast, a common practice in the Catholic Church and other faith traditions. An internal investigation determined DeOreo was not to blame for the eating disorder.

The suit states that even though it found no evidence of wrongdoing, the diocese agreed to pay for the complainer’s psychotherapy related to the eating disorder and that Dudzinski attended sessions with the complainer between February and September 2021, during which time he created “the false impression in Complainer that DeOreo would be held responsible and punished for allegations of sexual abuse made by Complainer and that the Diocese would tender compensation to the Complainer, regardless of the veracity of those allegations.”

In October 2021, the complainer wrote a letter accusing DeOreo of “sexual harassment and grooming,” which the lawsuit claims are false accusations. The lawsuit states that another internal review found “no evidence to substantiate the allegations or to support the assertion the alleged behavior constituted sexual abuse.”

The lawsuit states that Dudzinski purposefully hid the findings from diocese leadership, which restricted DeOreo from public ministry with youth or any parishioner of St. Alphonsus in November 2021 after the complainer emailed the diocese upset that DeOreo had attended a service with minors present, although he had not been prohibited from doing so at the time of the service.

In early March 2022, the lawsuit states that the complainer’s mother contacted the diocese to alert officials that DeOreo had attended a Carmel High School swimming meet, “incorrectly believing such presence was in violation” of the restrictions implemented in November. The lawsuit states DeOreo was not in violation because he was sitting with parents who invited him to the meet and did not engage in public ministry while there.

Several days later, the diocese suspended DeOreo. The lawsuit states that Bishop Timothy Doherty testified the only reason for the suspension was DeOreo’s perceived violation of the November restrictions. A statement released to parishioners about the matter directed anyone aware of misconduct to contact Child Protective Services, which the lawsuit states “intimates such inappropriate conduct was sexually abusive.” The suit also states that the diocese did not try to clarify that DeOreo was not facing credible allegations of sexual abuse when a television news station reported the matter as sex crime, allowing misinformation to persist.

The family that brought allegations of misconduct against DeOreo agreed to pay the priest an undisclosed amount in an out-of-court settlement after DeOreo filed a defamation lawsuit against them, according to the press release.