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  Diocese Suspected Abuse but Did Not Alert Police
Bishop Says Church Will Help Victims Heal

By Eileen E. Flynn
American-Statesman [Austin TX]
December 3, 2003

Bishop Gregory Aymond acknowledged Tuesday that the Catholic Diocese of Austin suspected that a former priest had sexually abused minors before it removed him from ministry in 1987 but did not notify the police.

"There is no indication that civil authorities were notified," Aymond said. "Unfortunately, that was not the mode of operation for society as well as the church."

The diocese recently paid a $250,000 settlement and more than $33,000 in therapy costs to Houston lawyer Robert Scamardo, who claimed that former Austin priest Dan Delaney and former lay youth minister James Reese molested him in the 1970s.

Aymond said he has heard from other people who say they were abused by Delaney, who was the diocesan director for the Catholic Youth Organization and served at other parishes in the 25-county diocese. The diocese is paying for counseling for those individuals, Aymond said.

Delaney lives in Houston. The Vatican officially removed his priestly faculties in 1987, when now-retired Bishop John McCarthy headed the diocese. But because no criminal charges were brought against Delaney, he does not have a criminal record.

Messages left at McCarthy's and Delaney's homes Tuesday were not returned.

Scamardo said he applauded Aymond's willingness to help victims with counseling bills. But he said the diocese could do more to encourage victims to come forward, namely by going to each parish where Delaney served and announcing the allegations.

"By not doing that, I think the church only compounds the pain that a victim feels," Scamardo said.

Scamardo, who attended Sacred Heart Church while growing up in Austin, said Delaney molested him in 1975 in a hotel room during a youth organization trip. Later, Scamardo said, he confided the incident to Reese, who in turn abused him sexually.

Reese told The New York Times last week that his relationship with Scamardo was "not the way he says." Reese worked with youths at Sacred Heart Church in the 1970s. Recently, he decided to enter the seminary to become a priest. Last year, after Aymond learned about the abuse claims, Reese was expelled.

Another Central Texas man, who was referred to the Austin American-Statesman by the diocese but spoke on condition of anonymity, said Tuesday that Delaney took him to a pornographic movie in the early 1970s and on another occasion tried to make him stay in a hotel room with him after an altar boys trip. The man, who was about 12 at the time, said he thinks there are several more people who were abused at his parish.

He said he also met with Aymond and the bishop is "wholeheartedly committed to helping victims heal."

Aymond said no other people have asked the diocese to pay personal damages, and Scamardo's case is the only diocese settlement he is aware of that involves sexual abuse of a minor.

Scamardo said the statute of limitations has elapsed for criminal charges against Delaney. In the case of sexual assault of a minor, an individual has 10 years from his or her 18th birthday to press charges. Scamardo said he has not considered civil litigation against Delaney or Reese.

Still, the idea that the diocese knowingly released a molester to the general public in 1987 is disturbing for Scamardo.

"There's this mentality that dismissing the priest is sufficient action," he said. "It's an important action and one that I'm glad to see bishops take, but it's only part of the solution."

According to the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, Delaney worked as a parish secretary at St. Stephen's Church in Houston. Spokeswoman Carol Barnwell said the diocese does criminal background checks on all employees, though the allegations against Delaney were not public record. Barnwell was not aware of any complaints about Delaney.

Scamardo's settlement caught the attention of David Clohessy, national director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, who wrote a letter last week excoriating the diocese for failing to take appropriate action with Delaney.

Clohessy said it's not enough for Aymond to ask victims to call the diocese; he should tell them to call the police.

"At this juncture, years and years after knowing about Delaney, for the bishop to say, `Come to us,' seems at best disingenuous and at worst like more damage control," he said. "Until we hear bishops saying, `This is a crime; call the police,' it will seem to so many victims that nothing has changed."

Aymond said he gave Clohessy's letter "prayerful thought," but decided it would be unproductive to enter into a public debate with him. The bishop did point to several steps the diocese has taken to prevent sexual abuse and heal victims, including the Ethics and Integrity in Ministry policy drafted before the national church scandal broke in January 2002.

The policy, which other dioceses around the country have used as a model, requires that background checks be done on all employees and volunteers with the church and that allegations of molestation be reported to police whether the incident occurred "yesterday or 40 years ago."

Early in 2002, Aymond made public appeals for abuse victims to come forward. That May, he removed the Rev. Dan Drinan from a Martindale parish after a family accused him of inappropriate conduct.

Police did not find evidence to charge Drinan, but Aymond visited the church and requested that others report any incidents of sexual impropriety involving Drinan.

Aymond said he is trying to contact Delaney to piece together more details not found in the former priest's diocesan file.

"Perhaps one of the faults of 30 years ago is that things were not recorded in writing as completely and as accurately as they should have been," he said. "We have learned from that mistake and that injustice."

 
 

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