Priest Credibly Accused in Houston Still Active in Croatia After Absconding from 1977 Felony Charge of Indecency with a Child

February 23, 2019

by Siobhan Fleming, PhD

On January 31, 2019, the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston released the names of 40 clergy who were credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor. 

Ivan Turic was one of those priests. Parishioners who knew him before his ordination recalled a mysterious man who came out of nowhere. 

Below is a review of his assignment history in the Galveston-Houston parishes and his extracurricular activities that include his criminal felony indictment and the civil suits in which he was a party.  

Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston Clergy Disclosure List

Rev. Ivan Turic was in active ministry in Houston for less than 10 years when a warrant was issued for his arrest for a felony charge of indecency with a child in May 1977. Ordained in May 1968, his nine-year career as a priest in Galveston-Houston was a debacle by any standard. He absconded from Houston when the warrant was issued, but the wake of his chaos was manifested in Harris County Courts for the next 36 years.

1966 – 1968: Time to Ordination

 

Turic’s time in the (then) Diocese of Galveston-Houston began shrouded in mystery. Two former parishioners at St. Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church in Freeport, who spoke on condition of anonymity, knew Turic before he was ordained in 1968. Both remembered him well when he was in charge of the youth recreational center at the Church. “We thought he was from Austria and we would sing songs from “The Sound of Music” to him,” the parishioner said. However, there is nothing in any available record to indicate that Turic was from Austria.

 

In a feature article, “FP Teen Center Attracts Crowds, But Leader Leaving,” published January 3, 1968, Brazosport Facts writer Pat Bean described Turic’s, “heavy Austrian accent” and noted that he had been in the U.S. a little more than a year. He added that the 26-year-old Turic was a seminary student at St. Mary Star of the Sea in Freeport and had already received a “doctor’s degree from the University of Vienna.”

 

There was no seminary at St. Mary Star of the Sea in Freeport. The seminary in the diocese then, and now, is St. Mary’s Seminary (SMS), Houston.

 

Turic was again featured in The Brazosport Facts on February 12, 1968 in a front-page photo and caption only that showed Turic’s ordination as a transitional deacon. The caption described the photo: "Ivan Turic, kneeling, is pictured as he was ordained to the Order of Diaconate Saturday Morning [February 10] at St. Mary's Star of the Sea Catholic Church in Freeport. Pictured standing, left to right, are the Rev. F. G. Wearden, the Rev. R. A. Blankenstein, both of St. Mary's and Pat Turner, a student at St. Mary's Seminary in Houston. Bishop John L. Morkovsky of the Galveston-Houston Diocese, sitting, is giving Father Turic the rites, leading him in his final step toward full priesthood. Father Turic will become a priest in May and then will be reassigned. He is currently at the Freeport Church, where he will remain. He is a native of Austria."

 

An Unusual Path to Ordination

 

Bishop John L. Morkovsky ordained Turic to the priesthood on May 18, 1968. Ivan Turic was front-page news when Texas Catholic Herald religion writer Diane Schaded featured Turic, and four other priests in her story, “Priesthood Ordinations Set in Houston, Baytown,” May 17, 1968.

Photo Credit: Siobhan Fleming, PhD

Very little detail was given about Turic in the article compared to the other priests whose histories included their elementary schools, high schools, parents' names and when they entered the seminary. Turic’s background was summed up in two sentences:

Although Schaded reported that Turic, “studied at St. Mary’s Seminary,” he is noticeably absent in the St. Mary’s Seminary 1968 class photo. The three men in the class photo below, (left to right) Fr. Isidore Rozycki, Fr. Clifton Ransom and Fr. Leonard Derden, were all ordained the same day as Turic, and were all featured in the same Texas Catholic Herald article.

Photo Credit: Siobhan Fleming, PhD

The seminary program at that time required four years of undergraduate work leading to a bachelor’s degree, and four years of graduate work for a master’s degree, usually in theology. Seminarians could enter the seminary after receiving a bachelor’s degree elsewhere, but were required to take undergraduate theology coursework if they hadn’t already. The St. Mary’s Seminary academic catalogues from the 1960s list the Register of Students enrolled, both undergraduate and graduate students. Turic didn’t appear in the published register of students until the 1967-1968 catalogue as a Theology IV Student, meaning he completed the four years of graduate theology work.

 

Turic is not listed anywhere as an alumnus. It is possible he transferred to St. Mary’s Seminary in 1966, but he was not listed as a student in any available documentation, he is not included in any alumni lists of SMS and, of course, he is not in the class photo. 

Also of note is the time between his ordination to the deaconate, and his ordination to the priesthood. Turic was ordained as a transitional deacon February 10, 1968, and barely three months later on May 18, 1968 he was ordained to the priesthood. A transitional deacon is the last phase of training for the Catholic priesthood. In 1968, the rules governing the time from deaconate to priesthood were defined in the 1917 Code of Canon Law. Formally known as the Codex Iuris Canonici (CIC) (1917), these laws were in place until 1983 when the Church instituted a revised version. 

 

At the time Turic was ordained, CIC 978 §2 required that a candidate for the priesthood first pass through four steps known as minor orders before the major orders of subdeacon, deacon and priest were conferred. CIC 978 §2 stipulated that there should be a minimum of three months from subdeacon to deacon, and three months from deacon to ordination as a priest.

 

There are no published accounts of Turic receiving or progressing through minor orders, or when (or if) he began his time as a subdeacon.  We only know that his time from deaconate to priesthood was three months. And regardless if there was any irregularity with his timeline, like many laws in the Church, there was a backdoor: it is noted in the 1917 CIC 978 §2 that diocesan bishops can waive the minimum time requirement in specific cases. Perhaps Bishop John L. Morkovsky did just that when he ordained Turic May 18, 1968 so soon after he ordained him a deacon in February.

 

1968-1971: Short-lived First Assignment Followed by Two Years Absent on Leave

 

Turic’s first assignment as a priest after ordination was at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Houston, 60 miles north of his home of two years in Freeport. The Official Catholic Directory (OCD) 1969 shows the following priests assigned to St. Vincent de Paul: Revs. J.D. Connelly, Robert E. Daigle, Ivan Turic, In Residence: Antonio J. Morales.

Turic only spent one year at St. Vincent de Paul Church. He was listed in the OCD 1970 and 1971 as Absent with leave.

Source: Google Maps, retrieved Feb 5, 2019

Turic's first three years as a priest were comprised of only one year at a parish followed by two consecutive years of leave. This is what is known as a bad sign.

If Ivan Turic’s entry into the priesthood was a tad unusual, his activities after his first year as a priest make him stand out from his child molesting peers on the list.

1972-1973: One Year On, One Year Off, Property Buying & the International Seaman Center

 

In the OCD 1972, Turic was no longer listed as Absent with leave. He was assigned to St. Francis of Assisi Church on the opposite side of Houston from St. Vincent’s. The parish had an elementary school run by the Sisters of Charity with 279 students.

Like his tenure at St. Vincent’s, Turic only lasted one year at St. Francis of Assisi. The 1973 Galveston-Houston Catholic Directory listing for Turic is: Leave of Absence.

Source: Google Maps, retrieved Feb 5, 2019

Curiously, although he was on a Leave of Absence in the both the OCD 1973 and the Diocese of Galveston-Houston Directory, Turic was still active as a priest. The September 1973 issue of the Port of Houston Magazine (Vol. 17, No. 9) reported that Rev. Ivan Turic was the full-time chaplain at the newly established International Seaman Center.

 

Established in January 1973, the International Seaman Center at the Port of Houston (renamed Seafarer’s Center) was spearheaded by Bishop John L. Morkovsky, according to his biography by Dawn Orsak in the Handbook of Texas Online.

 

The Port of Houston describes the center as a, “home away from home for seafarers visiting the Port of Houston…established to provide a safe and welcoming recreational and spiritual environment on land for those who have chosen the sea as their livelihood.”

Port Houston Magazine Archives, retrieved Feb. 21, 2019 portarchive.com

And who better to be full-time Chaplain to thousands of international seamen far from home than a priest with only two years of experience who has been on a leave of absence for three years?

Rev. Ivan Turic (left) circa 1973 at the International Seaman Center

Historical Photos from the Houston International Seafarers’ Center retrieved February 1, 2019:

http://houstonseafarers.com/gallery-historical-photos/

Canon Law on Leaves of Absence 

We do not know why Turic was on leave for three of his first five years of active ministry as a priest in Houston. In the Impact of a Leave of Absence on a Cleric's Right to Remuneration, published in 2006, canon lawyer Jason A. Gray explained different scenarios under which the term Leave of Absence might be applied for a priest. “A cleric may voluntarily request a leave of absence or may be involuntarily placed on a leave of absence. The circumstances of the leave may also vary greatly.” Those varied circumstances, Gray wrote, could be that the priest requested a leave of absence, “for personal reasons, to continue some sort pastoral formation…because of an illness or some other obstacle that prevents him from fulfilling his ministerial obligations…but is temporarily prevented from offering his service.”

 

If a priest is put on an involuntary on a leave of absence, Gray explained that it could be due to an allegation of a crime (as in, Canon Law crime), or because the bishop didn’t give him an assignment for another reason.

 

As with most things Turic, we don’t know the details, but the short assignments and multiple leaves of absence indicate that he was a problem.

 

It was during Turic’s third Leave of Absence in 1973, when he was full-time Chaplain at the Seaman Center, that he began building his real estate portfolio. Harris County Clerk property records show that on July 26, 1973, Rev. Ivan Turic was the grantee of a warranty deed for a property he purchased in Houston: Clairmont Place, Section 2, Lot: L0793, Block: B0035. It was the first of seven properties he owned in Houston.

 

1974: Another Parish, the Seaman Center & Real Estate

 

In 1974, his sixth year as priest, Turic made it back into a parish, but with a caveat: he was listed as, In Residence at Our Lady of Fatima, 1705 Eighth St., Galena Park, Texas. There were 152 students at Our Lady of Fatima elementary school. The OCD 1974 noted, for the first time, his role at the Seaman Center, “Turic, Chap., Port of Houston.”

The term, In Residence as Turic was listed at Our Lady of Fatima, meant that he was not assigned to work at the parish, but was living in the rectory that was conveniently only 3 ½ miles from the International Seaman Center and his job there as the full-time chaplain.

Source: Google Maps, retrieved Feb 5, 2019

The proximity of his residence at Our Lady of Fatima to his assigned chaplaincy at the Seaman Center was apparently not an important factor to Turic because Harris County Clerk property records show that on June 14, 1974 Reverend Ivan Turic purchased properties #2 and #3 in Clairmont Place, Houston and began living in one of them at 8157 Laura Koppe. Harris County Appraisal District records show that the 8157 Laura Koppe home is a 770 square foot single family home, built in 1946 and remodeled in 1960.

Not one to rest on his laurels, on August 24, 1974 Harris County Clerk property records show that Turic purchased property #4 in Clairmont Place: Sec: 1, Lot: L0331, Block: B0017. Warranty Deed name: Reverend Ivan Turic.

 

Turic had purchased a total of four properties in his name between July 1973 and August 1974, and he wasn’t done.

Source: Google Maps, retrieved Feb 5, 2019

1975: Last Association with a Parish 

 

In the OCD 1975 Turic was once again listed as In Residence at Our Lady of Fatima and Chaplain at the Port of Houston’s International Seaman Center. 

On November 26, 1975 he purchased property #5 in Clairmont Place: Sec: 1, Lot: L0330, Block: B0017. Warranty Deed name: Reverend Ivan Turic. It was his seventh year as a priest, and his last to be assigned to a Church in the Diocese of Galveston-Houston.​

Besides tending to Seamen and managing his five properties, Turic also sold a 1970 Cadillac de Ville in 1975. We know this because he sued the buyer in 1976 for failure to pay the balance owed to him.

1976: Lawsuits and Cadillacs


1976 was the last year Rev. Ivan Turic was listed in the OCD with a specific assignment. For reasons we do not know, he was no longer assigned to live at the rectory of Our Lady of Fatima. The OCD shows that he was assigned to the newly created Diocesan Office of Port Ministry.

 

Rev. Rivers Patout, who graduated from St. Mary’s Seminary Houston the year before Turic in 1967, was listed first in the directory for Port Ministry. Turic is listed as the, “Co-ordinator;” and “Chaplain of the International Seaman Center.”

If the multiple property purchases weren't enough to make Turic stick out like a sore thumb in the diocese, things got even stranger when he filed a lawsuit on March 4, 1976 in Harris County Civil Court #3 against a Houston woman for a debt owed to him in the amount of $300.

The Attorney for Turic, James R. Shelton, wrote in the summary, “This suit is brought for the recovery of damages which plaintiff is legally entitled to as a result of his sale of a 1970 Cadillac Sedan de Ville to the defendant in 1975.”

According to the suit, Turic sold the Cadillac to a Mrs. Gibbs for $2,300. Mrs. Gibbs paid him $2,000 at the time of sale and agreed to pay the balance of $300 at $50 per month.

 

He claimed she didn’t pay that $300, so he sued her.

 

The suit was dismissed at the plaintiff’s cost on May 29, 1979.

Filing a lawsuit to recover $300 in 1976 (worth approximately $1,292 in 2019) might indicate a plaintiff in dire need of money owed to him. If that was the case, it didn’t affect his buying power because on March 11, 1976, just a week after filing that lawsuit, Harris County Clerk property records show that Turic purchased property #6 in Clairmont Place, Section 1, Lot: L0312, Block: B0015.

Photo Credit: Siobhan Fleming, PhD

He then immediately took out a loan in the mount of $2,500 with 10% interest rate, monthly installments of $219.79, first payment due April 4, 1976, final installment due March 4, 1977. The deed of trust for the promissory note was in the name of Phillip Johnson.

 

Despite his chaplaincy work at the Seaman Center, Turic managed to expand his side job of buying properties to selling them as well.

 

On June 16, 1976 while living at his home on Laura Koppe Rd., Turic sold the first property he had purchased back in 1973. He was paid $13,950.

1977: Final Year in Houston

The OCD 1977 doesn’t list Turic at all – not at the Seaman Center or at any parish, but he still qualified for yet another mortgage on January 27, 1977 when Harris County Clerk property records show he purchased property #7 in the same area: Clairmont Place: Sec: 1, Lot: L0313, Block: B0015.

 

Turic’s activities of buying and selling personal properties, the Cadillac, followed by a lawsuit to recover money owed to him are not the typical activities of a diocesan priest. Diocesan priests do not take a vow of poverty like their religious order counterparts, so it could be argued that these transactions don’t necessarily raise a red flag.

 

However, when these atypical activities are viewed in light of Turic’s specious seminary training, his inability to remain at a parish for more than one year, his three yearlong leaves of absence and the fact that he is named by the Archdiocese as credibly accused sex abuser, what emerges is the profile of a priest who cannot be managed or controlled by his Bishop.

 

It is likely that Turic’s removal from his first assignment at St. Vincent de Paul Church was due to some misconduct because it was followed by two years of Absent with Leave. If that extended leave of absence was meant to remediate Turic, it is also likely that didn’t work because he was removed after only one year from his next assignment at St. Francis of Assisi, and again placed on a Leave of absence.

 

We can infer from his assignment history that the diocese must have been aware that he was a problem because he was not assigned to ministry in a parish after St. Francis of Assisi. He was allowed to live at a parish that included an elementary school: Our Lady of Fatima, but in 1977 even the In Residence status was revoked, or at least he wasn’t included in the OCD 1977.

 

When a problem priest can’t be managed or controlled by his Bishop, it can make it difficult for the Bishop to manage the collateral damage created by the priest, especially if external agencies get involved.

Which is exactly what happened on May 17, 1977 when a boy and his father filed a police report against Turic for indecency with a child. It was a felony complaint. The Harris County District Clerk file contains the information before the indictment:

 

In The State of Texas vs. Ivan Turic, 8157 Laura Koppe, the charge was Indecency with a child, “Ivan Turic…on or about May 14, 1977 did then and there unlawfully with the intent to arouse the sexual desire of the defendant have sexual contact by touching the genitals of <name redacted>, a child under the age of seventeen and not his spouse.”

Photo Credit: Siobhan Fleming, PhD

On June 16, 1977 a grand jury indicted Turic. 

Photo Credit: Siobhan Fleming, PhD

And on June 17, 1977 a warrant was issued for his arrest. His home address was indicated on the warrant. He had been living at his Laura Koppe home for three years.

Photo Credit: Siobhan Fleming, PhD

Turic must have had an inkling that the Grand Jury decision would not go his way because on June 9, 1977, one week before they returned the indictment, he filed with the Harris County Clerk to give his Power of Attorney to a woman named Vida Virginia Dixon.

One of the reasons he may have given that Power of Attorney to Vida Dixon was so she could manage the sale of two of his properties after he had gone on the lam. Harris County Clerk Property records show that on February 13, 1978, "Ivan Turic through authorized agent and attorney in fact, Vida Virginia Dixon” sold property number #6 for $9,500, and again on April 10, 1978 with Vida Dixon acting as his agent, Turic sold property number #7.

These two transactions occurred almost a year after the warrant had been issued for this arrest. It was still active, but wouldn't be for long. 

Photo Credit: Siobhan Fleming, PhD

We know the diocese had some idea of his whereabouts as he had performed a wedding in late March 1977 and would have had to submit records of such to the diocesan chancery office. And even though Turic wasn't listed in the OCD 1977 at either the Seaman Center, the Port of Houston or any individual listing, he is listed in the OCD 1978, but only with an address of P.O. Box 9541, Houston. The troubling issue with this is not just that the P.O. Box is the same one used for the Port Ministry/Seaman Center Clergy (see below), but there was a felony warrant issued for Turic's arrest in June 1977.

 

In order for the priests to have updated listings in the OCD 1978, they, or the diocese, had to submit their information to the publisher by the end of November 1977, and not earlier than October 1977.

This means either the OCD mistakenly included Turic in 1978, or the diocese knew where he was when the felony warrant was still active. 

Official Catholic Directory 1978 Individual Listing

Official Catholic Directory 1978 Diocese Galveston-Houston

Case Dismissed

 

Despite the courage of the boy and his father to go to the police, and the coordinated efforts of the Harris County Sheriff’s Department, the District Attorney’s office and the grand jury to indict Turic, the case was dismissed December 15, 1980.

The reason given on the case file at Harris County District Clerk’s Office: Defendant Unapprehended

Source: Harris County District Clerk, retrived Feb. 19, 2019

That wasn't the last of Turic in Harris County though.

 

Harris County District Courts made several attempts to locate Turic after he absconded in 1977, not for the felony indictment, but for tax delinquencies on the four properties that he still owned. Harris County District Clerk documents show that beginning in 1977 and continuing through 2014, the North Forest ISD, the City of Houston and Harris County attempted to locate, serve and collect the past due property taxes he owed.

Turic’s chaos took up Harris County Court resources for almost 40 years after he ran out on the warrant for his arrest.

Source: Harris County District Clerk, retrived Feb. 19, 2019

In September 2008 the tenacious attorneys representing the Harris County Tax Assessors Office located Turic in Croatia and served him notice of the lawsuit and final judgement for his tax delinquencies. They actually got a signature from Turic confirming receipt of service August 2009. The Certificate of Service is below. Harris County sold Turic's four properties at auction to recover his property tax delinquencies that dated back to 1977. 

Source: Harris County District Clerk, retrived Feb. 19, 2019

Alive and well in Croatia (and alleged Nazi fan)

Turic is quite visible online. He is still a priest in Croatia and listed as retired at a parish in Župa Biokovska

Sv. Mihovil Archangel 
21273 Župa Biokovska 
tel: 00 385 21 607 252 
priest Don Ivan Turić​

The World News Croatia 02.02.2019 - retrieved Feb. 3, 2019

Archidiocesis Spalatensis-Macarscensis

(Archdiocese of Split-Makarska)

Turic is part of the Archidiocesis Spalatensis-Macarscensis led by Archbishop Marin Barišić (below).

Croatian journalist Anamarija Burazer reported on Turic February 2, 2019 just after the Galveston-Houston list was released. "When asked what he thinks about the priests accused of pedophilia, he said: 'We are all men and we can have different sexual preferences, but as far as pedophilia is concerned, that's the worst. It's a man's embarrassment.'"

Turic denied to the Croatian newspaper that he had any impropriety in Houston saying, "I have never been accused and I have never been in any kind of problems."

Turic in Croatia Through the Years

Turic is present on YouTube. In an Oct 30, 2016 interview with Comunidad Belen Paz TV, Turic spoke about his relationship with Padre Pio. Comunidad Belén is an association of lay Catholics belonging to the Diocese of San Isidro, Province of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

 

In a 2013 interview with Rev. Ivan Turic, Dr. Ignaz Hochholzer and Vitomir Damjanovic talk to Turic about his past, his meeting with Pope Francis, and how Jesus is his best friend. I have included a translation of the interview in PDF format. The article is accessible online as well at Medjugorje: A place where Heaven meets the earth.

In the blog, Uncorking Croatia: Wines of Croatia, A Report: The Croatian Wine Story Presentation in Imotski 2012, Turic is credited with building (by hand) an event space with stone walls and vaulted ceilings. Croatian priest and missionary, Don Ivan Turić, is shown drinking wine in the stone grotto he built. 

The Croats reported on Turic's alleged Nazi sympathizing in 2016 when blogger M. Bozinovich referenced a 2010 article, Croat priest glorifies Nazi Ustasas; September 1, 2010.

A 2007 blog profiled Rev. Ivan Turic at his parish in Biokovo.

Turic's Victim

And what became of the victim who reported Turic to the police? 

According to public documents from the initial complaint and arrest warrant to criminal proceedings later in his life, he is in prison serving a life sentence for murder, which is where Turic should be.

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