Catholics React to Allegations

By Sarah Ovaska
Valley Morning Star [McAllen TX]
Downloaded January 10, 2004

McALLEN — The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brownsville broke its silence this week by announcing that since 1965, seven diocesan priests have victimized children.

The information, gathered for a nationwide report on the extent of the sexual abuse crisis within American Catholic parishes, confirmed what many had suspected.

When releasing the information, the diocese decided not to name the seven abusive priests. The Rev. Heberto M. Diaz Jr., chancellor of the Brownsville Diocese, said on Tuesday that the priests are not being named because most of the abuse happened long ago. All of the priests are still alive, but are no longer affiliated with the diocese, Diaz said.

"In the older cases, those priests are no longer priests," Diaz said. "We don’t have any contact with them."

That decision has raised questions with some local Catholics. "If we don’t know the names, what good will it do?" asked Maria A. Median, 47, of Edinburg. "There’s got to be a lot of victims."

Although she felt the diocese’s recent decision to talk about the seven abusive priests was a step forward, Medina questioned the timing.

"They just waited a little too long to release it, " she said.

The diocese issued a press release this week that as information is gathered from different religious orders, the diocese will release the numbers of any religious order priests who may have abused children in the Rio Grande Valley.

Pete Sztraky of Mission said the church should release the names and so avoid being publicly accused by the media.

"They should beat the media to it," said Sztraky, 57. "Do some prevention stuff instead of damage control."

Another local Catholic, Conrad Prukop, 26, of McAllen said that the problems facing the church shouldn’t be a huge focus of the media. If victims and church officials were able to interact without the glare of local media, the church as a whole would be better off, he said.

"I wish the church and families could sort it out without all this media attention," Prukop said.

Not naming the priests still leaves children at risk of being molested, said Sylvia Demarest, a Dallas attorney who represented several victims of Rudy Kos, a serial child molester and priest considered one of the most high-profile examples of sexual abuse by clergy.

"We need to know where these priests are," she said. "People need to know who they are so that they can protect their children."

Demarest said that victims in areas like the Rio Grande Valley are less likely to report abuse because of the cultural ties to Catholicism as well as a population that is often economically and socially powerless.

"In an area such as McAllen or Brownsville, it would be very similar to what Anglo populations were 35 or 40 years ago," Demarest said. "The number of priests that (diocese officials) know about is probably understated."

The effect of abuse on victims drives many to attempt or commit suicide, said Miguel Prats, the Texas coordinator for the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests.

"I call (abuse by clergy) a spiritual holocaust," Prats said. "When clergy abuse a child, it not only has the effect of destroying their personality, it destroys their soul."


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