All ‘credibly accused’ priests will be named
Dallas bishop unveils historic step that will reach back to 1950
All Catholic dioceses in Texas will release the names of every clergy member since 1950 to be “credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors,” Dallas Bishop Edward Burns said Wednesday.
Dioceses will publish the names by Jan. 31, Burns said, and the lists will be updated as new information becomes available.
The extraordinary undertaking comes at a time when the Catholic Church in Dallas and around the world is under increasing pressure to address its ongoing sexual abuse crisis.
“I truly believe this is the first time an entire state has bound together in order to release names,” Burns said.
The bishop said the church wants to “protect our children, create a safe environment, to promote healing for
those who’ve been abused, and to demonstrate that we are focused on facing this issue.”
Clergy abuse problems have roiled the church for years and flared up again in recent months. In August, a scathing Pennsylvania grand jury report revealed that at least 1,000 children were victims of sex abuse by priests over the past seven decades and that the church hierarchy either turned a blind eye or actively engaged in coverups. That same month, the Dallas Diocese announced that an Oak Cliff priest credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors had gone missing.
Burns said he owed transparency “to the faithful of the Diocese of Dallas.”
“And more importantly I owe it to those who’ve been abused and their families,” he said.
The decision for all 15 dioceses in Texas to release the files was made Sept. 30 during a meeting of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops.
The investigation to come up with the names represents a major undertaking. Statewide, the church serves 8.5 million Catholics in 1,320 parishes. The Dallas Diocese alone counts 1.3 million Catholics in 74 parishes.
“As you can imagine, going back to 1950 and doing this statewide, it is an arduous task. It’s going to take some time,” Burns said.
The diocese hired a team of six outside investigators made up of former FBI agents, former Texas state troopers and other law enforcement experts to examine its priests’ files. The group has done similar work for other Catholic dioceses around the country and is in “high demand right now,” Burns said.
Burns said the investigation began in February with the files of seminarians and deacon candidates along with active priests in the diocese.
Asked to explain the definition of “credibly accused,” Burns said the term means “that we would believe it is true that an abuse has taken place.” Burns said even without a criminal conviction, an investigation can determine if the accuser is telling the truth.
The criteria for what constitutes a credible accusation will be the same across the state, Burns said.
“When we bring forth our list, we will also bring forth that criteria,” he said.
Burns declined to estimate how many priests could be on the list. But he said he could “assure you that there are no priests in any parish in this diocese who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor.”
Burns predicted that some names would be familiar to Dallasarea Catholics.
“This diocese has gone through some very difficult days, and you’re going to see some of those names repeated,” Burns said. Other names, he said, “will be a surprise to people.”
The Diocese of Fort Worth has been making public the names of credibly accused clergy since 2005, according to a letter released by the office of Bishop Michael F. Olson. In 2007, the diocese became the first in Texas to publish on its website the names of the credibly accused priests. The list now contains the names of 15 priests, a deacon and a religious brother.
The investigation of Dallasarea priests comes about two months after Edmundo Paredes, the former pastor at St. Cecelia in Oak Cliff, was accused of abusing three boys more than a decade ago.
The diocese has not heard from Paredes since March, and private investigators haven’t been able to find him. Burns said Wednesday that he believes Paredes returned to his native Philippines.
The church now takes multiple steps when an allegation is made against a priest or other member of the ministry, Burns said: Law enforcement is notified, other church leaders offer assistance to the victim, and the allegations are reviewed by the Diocesan Review Board, made up of nonclergy Catholics including doctors, clinical psychologists, lawyers and parents.
After examining the allegations, the board offers an opinion on their credibility.
Burns’ announcement Wednesday came after he disclosed the investigation of active priests during a Tuesday service that kicked off an extraordinary month of town halls across the diocese to address the crisis. For Tuesday’s town hall, Burns returned to St. Cecilia and spoke to the several hundred in attendence.
In prepared remarks, Burns blamed “a small but significant number of clerics who preyed on children and young people” and church leaders who didn’t stop them.
“The failure of too many of my brother bishops to protect the children by covering up the crimes of the perpetrators and rebuffing victims who came forward has scandalized the Catholic faithful and the public at large,” he said.
Brian and Aubrey Flaherty were among those who came. The couple attend St. Monica Catholic Church in North Dallas. “There obviously needs to be a cleanup,” said Brian Flaherty. “That needs to happen.”
But the scandal hasn’t tempted the couple to leave the Catholic Church.
“The doctrine is pure and true,” Aubrey Flaherty said. “The problems are with the church, not the faith.”
Dallas Bishop Edward Burns prostrated himself on the altar as a sign of humility and penance during a Ceremony of Sorrow on Tuesday at St. Cecilia Catholic Church.
Dallas Bishop Edward Burns said he owes transparency to those in his diocese, “and more importantly I owe it to those who’ve been abused and their families.”