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  Former Bishop Defends Actions
Matthiesen Denies Accepting Pedophile Priests in Diocese

By Don Munsch
Amarillo Globe News
July 9, 2002

The former bishop of the Diocese of Amarillo denies he ever knowingly accepted a pedophile priest during his tenure as bishop.

But Leroy T. Matthiesen, bishop emeritus of the Diocese of Amarillo, did knowingly employ priests who had records of sexual misconduct and had gone through treatment programs for sexual problems. Matthiesen said misconduct involved acts with minors, specifically adolescents, 13 and over.

Matthiesen, who served the diocese from 1980 to 1997, said in a Monday letter to "concerned clergy, religious and laity of the Diocese of Amarillo" that he knows concerns have been raised about whether he employed priests who "were not fit for the priesthood." He said four of six priests who resigned from the Diocese of Amarillo this year had gone through a treatment program in Jemez Springs, N.M., prior to their coming to the Diocese of Amarillo.

Another former priest who worked in the diocese, the Rev. Al Bruening, went through the program - operated by a small Catholic congregation known as the Servants of the Paraclete - which treated men for sexual problems. Priests received psychological testing and treatment such as psychotherapy at the center.

Six priests in the Amarillo diocese have resigned this year. They are the Rev. Dennis Boylan, pastor of Holy Family Church in Nazareth and Holy Name Church in Happy; the Rev. Neal Dee, pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Groom and St. Mary's Church in Clarendon; Monsignor Orville Blum, pastor of St. Anthony's Church in Hereford; the Rev. Ted Podson, pastor of St. Francis Church; the Rev. John Anthony Salazar-Jimenez, pastor at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Tulia; and the Rev. Richard Scully, pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Dumas.

Monsignor Harold Waldow, vicar for clergy for the Diocese of Amarillo, said Scully resigned from the parish and asked for retirement based on his medical condition. Salazar-Jimenez resigned in May after serving the diocese for 11 years; before coming to Amarillo, he had served nearly three years in prison in California for sexually abusing minors.

Waldow said Boylan and Dee resigned because of the new sexual abuse policy passed by American bishops in Dallas in June, but said Blum and Podson resigned for reasons other than the new policy. The policy prohibits priests and deacons from serving in the ministry if they have offended once.

Matthiesen said Dee, Boylan, Salazar-Jimenez, Scully and Bruening went to the program in Jemez Springs before their employment here. Podson went to another treatment program, St. Luke Institute in Maryland, but Blum did not attend a program, Matthiesen said. Matthiesen said he accepted no other priests who went through similar programs.

Dee declined comment. The Globe-News was not able to reach any of the other priests who went through treatment programs.

Matthiesen said he was confident that each of the men, after they had passed through the program, would be suitable for ministry. Matthiesen said to his knowledge none of the priests who went through programs re-offended while they worked here.

Typically, a bishop would ask if a priest who had successfully completed the treatment might find a position in Amarillo, Matthiesen said.

Bishop John W. Yanta of the Diocese of Amarillo is in Europe and unavailable for comment.

In his letter, Matthiesen said he understands people's concerns given the revelations of sexual abuse in the clergy and the new policy approved by bishops in Dallas.

"The priests I accepted came from these professionally recognized centers," he said in his letter. "I did so in consultation with the diocesan Priests Personnel Committee and with the following conditions:> 1. A statement from the professionals at the center that they saw no reason why their clients could not be given ministry, provided they adhered to the center's recommended after-care program; 2. (Clients') faithful adherence to the following requirements of the program: A. Report to the center twice a year; B. Report to the bishop monthly; C. Be under the care of a certified counselor; D. Participate in a monthly group session facilitated by a certified counselor; and E. Report regularly to a spiritual director."

In his letter, he said the program was largely successful.

Matthiesen said bishops did not realize the gravity of the sexual abuse problems in the 1980s.

"In the beginning, we thought we could take care of this problem ourselves," Matthiesen said, explaining that "the thought then was that if you took this priest and put him into another set of circumstances that he could have a chance to function OK."

But Matthiesen said he and others did not know the extent of the harm that was done to victims of sexual abuse

 
 

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