|New Charges of Abuse Rock Archdiocese
By J. Michael Parker and Marty Sabota
February 6, 1994
Explosive tales of priests sexually molesting young people entrusted to their care have metastasized into a national scandal for the Roman Catholic Church in recent years.
The indictment of two priests on unrelated sex abuse charges last week in the Archdiocese of San Antonio proved once again that it can - and does - happen anywhere.
That knowledge has shaken St. Anthony's High School Seminary, where the Rev. Carlos Lozano, a popular teacher and former dean of men, was indicted Wednesday on charges he molested four teen-age boys at the school.
He was released on bond.
The next day, a Uvalde County grand jury indicted the Rev. Johnny Davila, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish of Uvalde, on a charge of indecency with a child involving a teen-age girl.
The cases are not untypical - victims often are boys, usually parish members or parochial-school students. Nationally, an estimated 400 Roman Catholic priests have been linked to the sexual abuse of children.
The cases have spawned high-dollar lawsuits threatening to bankrupt some dioceses and pushed the National Conference of Catholic Bishops last year to appoint a committee to confront the problem.
The recent indictments here mark a change in the way the local archdiocese is dealing with the scandals.
Until recently, critics charge, bishops usually transferred abusive priests to other assignments, often allowing them further opportunities to molest minors.
Years ago, such cases were treated much like alcoholism and other problems - as a moral failing that would be rectified by repentance and a change of environment.
"Society's knowledge - including professionals in the field - was still fairly limited," said Monsignor Lawrence Stuebben, director of administration for the San Antonio Archdiocese.
In San Antonio's first widely publicized clergy sex abuse case, a Franciscan priest, the Rev. Federico Fernandez, was indicted in 1988 on charges of sexually molesting two teen-age brothers.
Archdiocesan officials were accused of pressuring the victims' family not to report the cases to authorities because the matter was being handled internally.
Former District Attorney Fred Rodriguez and his staff accused the archdiocese of not cooperating with the investigation.
Archdiocesan officials claimed they cooperated fully with state officials, and they met with the Texas Department of Human Services and the Alamo Area Council of Governments in March 1988 to work together on policy guidelines for future cases.
Stuebben said he didn't know what happened in the Fernandez case, but added:
"There's no question there's been a lot of progress in the way the church responds to this type of allegation."
The next local case didn't occur until last year, when the Rev. Xavier Ortiz-Dietz, former pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Von Ormy and Our Lady Queen of Heaven Parish in Macdona, was indicted on a charge of aggravated sexual assault on a child after five male parishioners accused the priest of molesting them.
Following the policy, Ortiz-Dietz was removed from his parish and placed on leave, civil authorities were notified and the archdiocese paid for counseling for both the victims and the priest, Stuebben said.
He said the same procedure was followed in the case of Davila.
Steubben said the archdiocese's relationship with the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services has improved since the Fernandez case.
Last June, Archbishop Patrick Flores cautioned all priests in the archdiocese to be alert for priests who commit sexual offenses.
In a letter to the priests obtained by the San Antonio Express-News, the archbishop suggested some other priests might have known or suspected problems and not reported it.
"We all cherish the priestly brotherhood that binds us together, but there is a greater loyalty to be served," the letter states.
"Those who have suffered the most from the pedophile are among the most devoted Catholics - those who are close to their church and to the priest, whose children participate in the Mass," Flores wrote.
"These trusting people provide the pedophile his opportunity. Can you imagine their sense of loss when they discover how they've been betrayed?" he added.
In the Lozano case, school officials moved quickly to contain the damage, calling every parent for an emergency meeting at the school two days after the first accusation was made in December.
About 90 parents attended the meeting where they learned of the allegations.
In response to their questions, they received assurances that the 91-year-old school was safe and would remain open and that the matter was being thoroughly investigated.
A team of counselors from outside the school was assembled to help students and their families.
The Rev. Raul Salas, rector of St. Anthony's for the past 11 years and a 1971 graduate, said several students and a few parents had been in contact with the counselors.
Several days after the parents meeting, Salas held an assembly for all the students to inform them of the allegations of sexual misconduct.
"Some of them you could see were visibly upset because they were close to him, some were in shock and others had the attitude of 'it happens,' " Salas said.
Two more students came forward with allegations shortly afterward and the fourth at Christmas. One of the four, two age 16 and two age 17, reported having oral sex with a priest.
"It took a lot of courage for these guys to come forward," Salas said.
He said the students initially were harassed somewhat by other students, but they soon "rallied around each other" when they encountered scrutiny from the outside world.
"They bonded together like a family," Salas said.
Salas said that psychological screenings of Lozano and his background check before hiring showed no signs of deviancy.
Lozano is receiving counseling at a retreat in Sarita, near Kingsville.
The mother of one student who came to the school Friday afternoon to pick up her son defended the teacher.
"I think they are false accusations," said the woman, who identified herself only as the mother of an 18-year-old senior.
Lozano was a strict teacher and not one to socialize with students, her son told her. That's not the demeanor you would expect if he were a child abuser, she said.
"You would think he would try to win their confidence," she said.
She praised the school and said she wouldn't withdraw her son even if Lozano was convicted.
Salas said he expected some withdrawals at Christmas, but only three left afer the fall semester, one due to grades. A fourth student - one of the accusers who came forward afer the initial accusation - left at midsemester.
Barbara Blaine, a Chicago woman who in 1991 founded the 1,700-member national Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (S.N.A.P.), said she feared the allegations leveled against the San Antonio priest are "just the tip of the iceberg."
Blaine, who said she was abused by a priest from age 13 until her senior year in high school, predicted that publicity about the case would prompt others in the community to come forward with their own stories.
Blaine said they field 30 or 40 calls a day from victims whose ages range from 18 to 78. S.N.A.P. records show 32 members in Texas, including two in San Antonio.
One member contacted Friday night said she is the mother of two sons, ages 25 and 16, who are survivors of clergy abuse. She also said "memories are coming back" of personal abuse when she was a child.
"It doesn't surprise me," the 50-year-old San Antonio woman said of the indictments against Lozano and Davila.
"The stories just leave me sick."
She said she had considered sending her teen-ager to St. Anthony's.
"Thank God I decided against it," she said.
Stuebben said it's impossible to predict whether more priests will be accused.
"People have asked me that, and it's like asking the district attorney to guarantee there won't be any more murders," he said.
Stuebben said there's no archdiocesan policy on trying to settle lawsuits out of court because "every case is different."
He declined to reveal how much insurance coverage the archdiocese has.
The Archdiocese of Santa Fe, N.M., could face as much as $50 million in lawsuits over 41 sexual misconduct cases, and Archbishop Michael Sheehan has asked the Catholic laity there for financial help to stave off possible Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Santa Fe's problems are greater than most dioceses because many other dioceses sent priest pedophiles to a treatment center in New Mexico, and many of them stayed in the area and committed additional offenses after the center certified them as cured.
Stuebben said no U.S. diocese ever has declared bankruptcy before, so nobody knows the extent of the implications for a diocese's assets.
But he said the Archdiocese of San Antonio's paramount objective was to work to rectify the damage caused by clergy sexual abuse.
"The archbishop hasn't avoided any of this," Stuebben said. "I've seen him break down in tears over this, both in public and private."
He said although sexual abuse is much more common among married men than priests, cases involving priests get greater publicity.
"This has created a bit of a skewed perception of the nature and scope of the problem among priests so that all kinds of questions are asked that have no relationship to pedophilia - such as whether it's related to celibacy, poor seminary screening or something inherently wrong with the Catholic priesthood," Stuebben said.
Monsignor Liam Brosnan, pastor of St. Pius X parish, knows the harm abuse cases can do to the clergy's reputation.
Several months ago, he and his brother, Monsignor Dermot Brosnan, who directs a ministry for drug and alcohol abusers, were paying for a meal at a San Antonio restaurant when "a man we'd never seen before came in the front door, saw us wearing our Roman collars and started shouting for everybody in that restaurant to hear that we were child molesters."
"When we went out into the parking lot, he followed us and continued shouting until another customer approached him. Then he ran away," the priest said.
"Some people are inclined to judge all of us on the actions of a few. They question the credibility of all of us, and this hurts the morale of many priests.
"One priest told me that when he goes out in public wearing his clerical collar, he feels people are watching him and wondering whether he's a pedophile - and that hurts badly," Brosnan said. crime crimes assaults molestation molestations
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.
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