All ‘cred­i­bly ac­cused’ priests will be named

Dal­las bishop un­veils his­toric step that will reach back to 1950

The Dallas Morning News - - Front Page - By DAVID TARRANT Staff Writer dtar­rant@dal­las­news.com

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.”

Ryan Michalesko/staff Pho­tog­ra­pher

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.

Ryan Michalesko/staff Pho­tog­ra­pher

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.”

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