San Antonio Express News
By Abe Levy
June 26, 2014
SAN ANTONIO — The Archdiocese of San Antonio has deemed credible a woman's recent claim that a priest sexually abused her in the late 1970s when she was a girl, according to notices it circulated this month in its newspaper, its website and at two parishes.
In the course of reviewing the allegation, the archdiocese said, it discovered that a now-deceased priest who had worked at that time in two local parishes had been convicted of molesting and raping a child in Wisconsin and of attempted rape of an adult.
The wording of the notice implies that archdiocese officials believe the late Father Bruce MacArthur was the woman's abuser, but it does not explicitly say so.
An archdiocese spokesman would not elaborate on the notice, which says MacArthur was assigned to the parish where she was abused — St. James the Apostle on the South Side.
The notice was circulated at both St. James and St. Dominic parishes, where the archdiocese says MacArthur worked from 1979 to 1984.
“I pledge my commitment to continue working to make every Catholic Church, school and institution a safe harbor for all our children,” the notice quotes Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller saying. He also asks that any victim of MacArthur contact the archdiocese.
It was the first time the archdiocese made MacArthur's name public as a child sex offender.
However, his supervising bishops, including now-retired San Antonio Archbishop Patrick Flores, knew he had a record of child sex offenses dating to the 1960s, documents from lawsuits against him in 2004 and 2007 show.
He underwent multiple stints at treatment centers between assignments in South Dakota, Wisconsin and Texas, say the court documents, which describe him admitting to molesting or raping at least 15 girls.
He called himself a “rotten priest” and asked his bishop to ban him from public ministry in 1992, the documents state.
The documents show MacArthur was sentenced to state prison in 1979 for attempted rape of a disabled woman in a nursing home in El Paso. Flores met him when he was El Paso's bishop in 1978, the records say, a year before he became San Antonio's archbishop.
He pleaded guilty in 2008 to three counts of molesting girls in Wisconsin and was sentenced to six months in jail. MacArthur died two years ago at age 89 in Clint, a Texas border town just south of El Paso.
Tahira Khan Merritt, a Fort Worth attorney who has sued dioceses in Texas on behalf of child sex abuse clients, described MacArthur's case an example of how the church's sex abuse scandal has been ongoing.
Catholic leaders allowed MacArthur to stay under the radar as a child sex offender for decades without reporting him to law enforcement, she said.
“There are these 'benevolent bishops' they talk about in these documents who take in these sexual predators,” Merritt said. “It is putting more children in harm's way and not advising parishioners of the danger of these men. In 2014, why is this not publicized more widely?”
MacArthur was raised in a Catholic family in Selby, South Dakota in 1922. In 1953, he was ordained to the Diocese of Sioux Falls.
A decade later, he was pastor of St. Peter the Apostle parish in Platte, South Dakota, where he sexually abused three girls, sisters, at their home. The oldest he took to a hotel for one episode, a 2004 lawsuit deposition states. He molested the other two in his rectory, he admitted.
His supervisor then, Sioux Falls Bishop Lambert Hoch, sent him for two weeks' treatment at Via Coeli in New Mexico, a common destination for pedophile priests.
He resurfaced at St. William's parish in Ramona, South Dakota, where two girls, 10 and 11, claimed he touched them inappropriately.
“Keep it as quiet as possible,” wrote a priest to the bishop in relaying the wishes of the girls' parents for MacArthur to be transferred.
By 1965, he was on a retreat in an abbey for his problem. His bishop sent him to the Milwaukee archdiocese and treatment there.
By his third ministry assignment in Wisconsin, at a hospital in Beaver Dam, he had abused 11 girls, by his own count. He regularly had sex with one girl in Wisconsin for about five years, starting in fifth grade and ending in high school, he admitted.
Back in South Dakota, MacArthur sexually abused three more girls, according to his deposition.
In 1973, he said, his bishop “indirectly” assigned him to El Paso because of pedophilia. There, he ministered in hospitals but also worked at St. Patrick Cathedral — where he molested another girl, court documents state.
Arrested in January 1978, he was convicted a year later of attempted rape of a female nursing home patient. The woman was 51, mute and unable to walk. MacArthur was on probation while in San Antonio and the record is not clear when he went to prison. He testified he was released March 26, 1981.
While in San Antonio, he was in therapy. Flores agreed to have him serve here, encouraged by the Sioux Falls bishop, who indicated MacArthur's past was too well known in his diocese for him to return.
At one point, Flores considered MacArthur's request to officially transfer to the San Antonio archdiocese.
“If he is willing to work with us and if it works out, I am definitely willing to work with him,” Flores wrote.
According to the San Antonio archdiocese, MacArthur worked at St. James from 1979 to 1980 and from 1982 to 1984, and at St. Dominic from 1980 to 1982.
He went on to join the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, traveling to Africa and ministering at a parish in Brownsville and near Saltillo, Mexico. He then found a supporter in now retired San Angelo Bishop Michael Pfeiffer, also an Oblate, who gave him temporary work.
Bishop Paul Dudley of Sioux Falls wrote Pfeiffer in 1990 that MacArthur “had extensive counseling in dealing with the sexual issues that has afflicted him in the past. ... You know his background far better than even I do.”
But two years later, Dudley warned Pfeiffer to keep a close watch on MacArthur, citing the rise of lawsuits and news coverage of pedophile priests. And, he wrote, “Just a few days ago, a woman called me expressing such fear and worry that Father Bruce might abuse some child as she was abused.”
MacArthur formally asked for retirement and removal from public ministry, which was granted Aug. 21, 1992.
Two years later, he mailed a letter from Clint to his former bishop, Dudley. He said he had been living in a small trailer and working at a soup kitchen for Navajos, volunteering alongside nuns from Mother Theresa's order.
“It is here I have learned to pray always as they do,” he wrote. “I would say that this mild yet constant retreat was at times uplifting and at other times extremely depressing, for I was forced to look at my terrible history. I was ashamed at my many, many acts of abuse and the many devastating and painful repercussions on yourself and the priests of the diocese.”
In 2004, he was living at RECON in Robertsville, Missouri, another common treatment destination for pedophile priests. He had been there for 15 months, he said in his deposition that year, and had been living in Gallup, New Mexico.
At one point in the deposition, he tried to differentiate himself from more violent pedophiles.
“They'd kill 'em, they'd maim and they'd rape, and they'd — that's the reason I — I couldn't take what I did as wrong,” he said. “I just continued. I was immersed in — what I did. And I knew I was doing wrong, but I had no way of stopping, none whatsoever.”