Don Ivan Turić was indicted in 1977 in Texas for sexual abuse of minors and deprived of church duties, after which he fled to Argentina, only to return to Croatia in the mid-1990s and continue working in the parishes of the Split-Makarska Archdiocese until his retirement.
Denies accusations - Don Ivan Turic (PHOTO Tino Juric / PIXSELL)
IVAN TURIĆ, a priest who was stripped of his powers by the archdiocese of Texas in 1977 on charges of sexually abusing a minor, fled to Argentina the same year after a request for his arrest was issued. Although he was stripped of his ecclesiastical duties by Roman Catholic authorities in the United States, he continued to serve as a priest on another continent for the next 18 years. After the South American period, in 1996 he moved to Croatia, where Archbishop ANTE JURIĆ appointed him supervisor in two parishes of the Split-Makarska Archdiocese. Only three years ago, in August 2016, Jurić's successor MARIN BARIŠIĆ sent him into regular church retirement. Leaving the USA, Turić also left large tax debts due to the real estate business, which he developed in parallel with his work in the parishes there. For more than 30 years, the American tax authorities have been looking for his right address in order to collect debts.
The report states that on May 14, 1977, Turić ‘illegally, with the intention of arousing sexual desire, had sexual contact by touching the genitals of a child under the age of 17’.
These and unknown parts of Turić's life in the USA were collected by SIOBHAN FLEMING, an expert and long-term investigator of cases of sexual abuse in the Texas branch of the Catholic Church. Fleming began analyzing police and church archives after the Archdiocese of Texas at Galveston-Houston posted a list of priests on its website in late January 2019 who had been ‘credibly’ accused of sexually abusing minors since the mid-20th century. In addition to Turić's name, only the names of the parishes in which he worked are listed: the church of Sv. Francis of Assisi in Houston, St. Michael in Lake Jackson and St. Vincent Paul in Houston, with the fact that his priestly powers were revoked in 1977. After the local media reported the news about the Croat on the Texas census, the so-called priest appeared. He completely denied any connection to the charges. 'I have never been accused and I have never been in any trouble, but today you can expect everything, even to be put on a list. I have not heard, seen or known about this list. "This is the first time I've heard from you, so I have to look and read," he said in 24 hours, adding that "we are all human and we can have various sexual preferences, but when it comes to pedophilia, it's the worst."
Siobhan Fleming's research, however, shows that Turic was not telling the truth. In mid-1977, a boy reported him to the police. The report states that on May 14, 1977, Turić "illegally, with the intention of arousing sexual desire, had sexual contact by touching the genitals of a child under the age of 17".
The Texas prosecutor's office filed an indictment against Turic on June 16, 1977, and an arrest warrant was issued the day after. Between the report and the indictment, the priest hired a lawyer on June 9, but not on serious charges of abusing a minor. Documents from that period show that he gave the lawyer a power of attorney to control and sell real estate that he had been buying for years in the greater Houston area. He soon left the United States.
As a reason for moving to Argentina, Turic cited the "need for priests" in the country a month ago. Six years earlier, in a 2013 interview, he said the transfer was personally approved by the Bishop of Houston, aware of the need for a clergy in that South American country. A recent census on the Galveston-Houston Archdiocese website, however, showed that the church there had stripped him of his right to work due to allegations of pedophilia. Asked how it is possible that he continued his church work long after the American branch of the Catholic Church deprived him of clerical duties, Fleming answered that in 1977 dioceses were not obliged to inform the Vatican or the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith about such cases. "Until 2001, the crime of sexual abuse of children was solved by the competent bishop at the local level," she points out.
Discoveries of thousands of abusive priests in the United States and some European countries show that this is exactly what the Catholic Church has done to allow suspects in serious crimes to continue working. For decades, the practice of unhindered activity of suspects and even convicted priests in other parishes and states has been nurtured because local church offices did not inform the center about their past. Last week, we sent an inquiry to the address of the Archdiocese of Texas regarding this case. We were interested, among other things, in whether Turić's claims that the then bishop knew that he was in Argentina at the time when the request for his arrest was in force were correct. Until the conclusion of the text, they did not respond to the inquiry.
Since the 1990s, Turic has appeared in public on several occasions, usually due to his extreme political views and the luxuries in which he lived. In 2010, in a sermon, he called Ante Pavelić and the Ustashas ‘benefactors of the Croatian people’.
The indictment against Turic was dropped in the late 1980s. The reason given was that ‘the accused was not arrested’. Namely, Turić has long been out of the reach of the Texas and American judiciary. "Despite the courage of the boy and his father to go to the police, and the coordinated efforts of the Harris County Sheriff, the District Attorney's Office and the grand jury to indict Turic, the case was dismissed on December 15, 1980," said our interlocutor Fleming who managed to reconstruct a good part of Turić's ten-year stay in the USA. The priest came to Houston around 1966 or 1967 from Austria. After schooling in Split, a young man born in the parish of Biokovska near Imotski in the early sixties went to study in Vienna, where some members of his family already lived. Judging by all the available data we came across, Turić also received Austrian citizenship. In the media articles on the occasion of the ordination, Austria, and not Yugoslavia, is mentioned as the country of his origin.
He was ordained in 1968 by the then Bishop JOHN L. MORKOVSKY. Prior to his ordination, Turić was the head of the youth recreation center in the church of St. Mary Star of the Sea in Freeport. His first priestly work was in the church of St. Vincent Paul in Houston. He spent only one year there, followed by a two-year break. In church yearbooks that record the activities of all priests, his status is explained in three words: ‘Absent with leave’. The coin, which in translation means ‘absent with leave’, could have a number of different causes, from the illness of priests to a number of offenses prescribed by internal church laws.
In the case of the second U.S. archdiocese, Boston, those three words served as a euphemism for covering up pedophilia and decades of relocating several hundred abusers from parish to parish, according to the Boston Globe in a study translated into the Oscar-winning film Spotlight. After a two-year hiatus, Turic reappeared on the list of active priests. He was transferred to the church of Sv. Francis of Assisi on the other side of Houston, which included a school run by nuns. The following year, however, a new one-year leave followed under almost identical grounds as in the first case. Despite this, Fleming found him in the archives as a chaplain in the newly established ‘International Naval Center’, initiated by Bishop John L. Morkovsky. Turic also started a real estate business at the time. From June 1973 to August 1974, he bought four properties, mostly family houses and apartments. It then proceeds with new housing acquisitions. By 1977, he had amassed seven different properties in Houston in his own name. The lawsuit he filed in 1976 also testifies to his pronounced buying and selling habits, which are not typical for a priest. Through the court, he sought to collect $ 300 allegedly owed to him by a woman to whom he sold a Cadillac Sedan de Ville for the then $ 2,300.
Turic's name disappeared from the church yearbook again in 1977, the year Texas authorities filed the described indictment for adultery with a minor. Although the exact date of his departure for Argentina is not known, he undoubtedly went there in the same year when his priestly powers were revoked in Houston. This is evident from the contents of a secret file opened in his name in 1978 by the Yugoslav State Security Service. According to the documentation we found in the Croatian State Archives, the Yugoslav embassy in Argentina was initially interested in Turic. In a letter dated 5 January 1978, they informed the Yugoslav authorities that Turić had moved in with his uncle in the town of Rosario. "According to unverified information, Turic is destined to be a parish priest in Villa Mugueta, province of Sant Fe - Argentina, where there are many of our emigrants," reads a document sent from the embassy, asking the SDS to report on his "behavior." The Split branch of the secret police responded in two weeks. They pointed out that the priest in his hometown "did not speak negatively in public places", citing biographical sketches of other family members, including his father, who was an Ustasha official in World War II. In the following years, however, oversight increased due to "hostile activity" against Yugoslavia in the meantime. Through several reports, it is portrayed as a financial and informative link between ‘persons in the country associated with Ustasha emigration’. An intelligence profile of Ivan Turić was sent in 1987 by JOSIP PERKOVIĆ, a Yugoslav and Croatian intelligence officer convicted in Germany of the murder of emigrant STJEPAN ĐUREKOVIĆ.
Turic continued to perform missionary and regular priestly duties in Argentina for the next 18 years. After returning to Croatia in 1996, he was assigned his native Župa Biokovska with the faithful in Rašćani. He has appeared in public on several occasions since the 1990s, usually due to his extreme political views and the luxuries in which he lived. In a sermon in 2010, he called ANTA PAVELIĆ and the Ustashas ‘benefactors of the Croatian people’ who ‘created the Croatian state’. The media also wrote about his large stone house in Imotski, which locals call Turića dvori, whose interior allegedly hides priceless paintings and works of art. His luxury cellar, where excellent wine connoisseurs consume the best products of the region, was also photographed. Turić, in addition, still drives an Audi A8, and has several valuable oldtimers. At the beginning of the 2000s, he offered the state, ie the Minister of Culture BOŽI BIŠKUPIĆ, a private collection of works of art. In January 2018, the current Minister NINA OBULJEN KORŽINEK visited him, stating that she was delighted with what she saw and that the Ministry of Culture, if requested by Don Turić, would do everything in terms of restoring some works of art.
After decades of searching, U.S. tax authorities located him about a decade ago. He was served with a claim in Biokovo Parish, after which tax debts were settled by selling his remaining four properties in Houston. Our interlocutor Siobhan Fleming also found a man who, as a boy, reported Turić to the police for fornication." According to publicly available data, he is serving a life sentence in prison for the murder, where Turic should be," she concluded in her analysis.
Don't worry about it
In order to hear the other side of the story, Novosti contacted retired priest Turić by phone on Wednesday.
Novosti: I am calling you regarding the list published by the Archdiocese of Texas, which contains your name.
Turic: I would not comment on anything. I don't know anything about that. Thank you and regards.
Novosti: We came across an indictment and a request for arrest from mid-1977. We also have a report from a boy who accused you of fornication.
Turic: I don't have that. I know nothing nor have I ever been accused.
Novosti: We tell you that an indictment has been filed against you.
Turic: I don't know what you're talking about. It's not my fault. I am an innocent man.
Novosti: Would you comment on the allegations in the application?
Turic: Not. It has nothing to do with me.
Novosti: Why did you flee to Argentina?
Turic: I didn't run away. I left. I had a family there, I wanted to do missionary work.
Novosti: You left the moment they wanted to arrest you. You say it has nothing to do with your departure?
Turic: None. I didn't know that.
Novosti: Did the bishop who ordained you to be in Argentina know?
Turic: (silence for a few seconds) You are a good confessor. Come on, thank you.
Novosti: Can you say something about the real estate business and the fact that Americans have been trying to settle your tax debts for decades?
Turic: Don't worry about it. Thank you and goodbye.