FW Diocese Concealed Abuse
By Brooks Egerton
Dallas Morning News [Fort Worth TX]
November 29, 2006
Fort Worth Catholic Diocese leaders systematically helped predator priests stay in ministry for two decades by concealing information from parishioners, police and the public, court records unsealed Tuesday show.
The records, which The Dallas Morning News and Fort Worth Star-Telegram obtained after a 19-month legal battle, contain more than 700 pages from the personnel files of seven priests that the diocese had fought to keep secret.
Nearly half of the records deal with numerous sexual abuse complaints against the Rev. Philip Magaldi, who said Tuesday night that he remains in ministry despite diocesan statements to the contrary. The priest was an old friend of the late Bishop Joseph Delaney, who supervised all seven clergymen and appeared in the documents to have been motivated at times by fear of bad publicity.
"There is no way that – that I can defend myself before God or before the people of the diocese or before the world if ... [a reporter for The Dallas Morning News], for instance, tomorrow morning, published all of this," Bishop Delaney told Father Magaldi during one confrontation over an abuse complaint, according to the records. "There would be no defense."
The confrontation occurred in 1998, soon after Bishop Delaney told The News that he had full confidence in the priest – despite his history of spending lavishly on boys and being convicted of stealing from a parish in Rhode Island.
That track record turns out to have been only part of the story: In 1997, church investigators concluded that Father Magaldi sexually exploited an 18-year-old who came to him for confession. The bishop responded by ordering the priest to quit supervising altar boys.
Bishop Delaney's successor, Bishop Kevin Vann, was unavailable for comment Tuesday, his spokesman said. Bishop Vann said last week that reading the records was "extremely distressing and painful."
Bishop Vann has apologized to clergy-abuse victims in general. "It not only took your innocence and your childhood; in some cases it destroyed your faith," he told a news conference in August.
Church officials would not say Tuesday where Father Magaldi was living or whether he was being supervised.
The News later located the priest at his North Richland Hills retirement home. He said some of the allegations against him were false, some made no sense and some involved behavior that was not inappropriate. Asked if he would do anything differently, he replied: "I can't think of anything at the present time."
Father Magaldi also said he was defying Bishop Vann's order to stay out of ministry and that he celebrates Mass for about a dozen Catholics at the retirement home.
During the 1998 confrontation with Bishop Delaney, Father Magaldi denied abusing anyone. But he acknowledged that the two complaints – involving events in different states many years apart – were quite similar. Both involved allegations that he paid teenagers to give him enemas.
"I can understand where that would raise a question," the priest said, according to the transcript, "and it would be difficult, OK!"
Father Magaldi admitted paying the first accuser for enemas – because he needed help with a medical condition, he said.
"Any adult can give himself an enema," responded Bishop Delaney, who died last year.
The priest said he didn't know the second accuser, who passed a polygraph test.
Diocesan policy called for Father Magaldi to be suspended while under investigation. Yet Bishop Delaney agreed to leave him on duty at St. John the Apostle in North Richland Hills for the several days required to get through the Christmas season.
As it turned out, the priest kept working for months. During that time, he failed a polygraph test set up by a church investigator.
Bishop Delaney left him on duty even after witnessing suspicious behavior by Father Magaldi and getting a warning about other incidents. The records don't explain the bishop's reasons. They do say that the priest took another polygraph test, set up by an attorney he retained, and passed it.
The Diocese of Providence, R.I., hired the church investigator. His job was to research the second accuser's claim that Father Magaldi abused him in the 1970s while working in Providence.
The priest worked in Rhode Island until the late 1980s, when he came under investigation for stealing from a parish and transferred to Fort Worth. He told the investigator that he pleaded guilty in that case to protect someone else from disgrace, according to an interview transcript.
"Someone has been out to get me for a long time," the priest told the investigator, rambling frequently and hinting at a conspiracy.
"I have loved children," he added. "They call me a pied piper sometimes."
In March 1999, while evaluating all of this material, Bishop Delaney visited Father Magaldi's church.
"Before Mass," the bishop wrote in a note for the priest's personnel file, "I was standing at the door of the sacristy and I observed Father Philip Magaldi helping the altar servers to vest. The servers were all fifth-grade boys from the parish. I saw him tying the cincture [sash] for one boy. He had his arm around the child and had his cheek pressed against the child's cheek while he worked on the cincture.
"I judged it to be a very inappropriate gesture. A moment later I called him aside and told him what I had seen and how concerned I was by it. He seemed to be oblivious to what he had been doing."
A month later, Bishop Delaney heard of another concern. A priest sent word that Father Magaldi was using a handpicked crew of altar boys at his Masses, not a group assigned by a church staff member. And one of the boys "goes to Fr. Phil's home to help take care of Fr. Phil's mother there."
In late April 1999, after the second accuser threatened to sue, the bishop removed Father Magaldi from ministry. Parishioners and the public were told only that the priest had been accused by one man, was "retiring" and "vehemently denies the truth of these accusations."
Privately, Bishop Delaney warned Father Magaldi not to use his church connections to make contact with young people.
A few months later, the second accuser sued. The complaint was dismissed on procedural grounds, and the accuser – who had a history of drug abuse and crime – died at 42.
In fall 2000, the bishop gave Father Magaldi yet another chance, letting him work as a priest at a Keller parish.
Complaints soon arose about his behavior with boys, but he kept working. At least two allegations apparently were reported promptly to church officials, according to a memo written by Keller's pastor, the Rev. John Gremmels:
After Mass one Sunday, Father Magaldi approached a 17-year-old whose grandfather had just died, "took the boy by the face and said, 'Kiss me. I love you. I've always loved you. ...' Then he kissed the boy on both cheeks and gave him a lengthy embrace. Two adults turned around with what was described as shock on their face. ... [The boy's] mother witnessed the event and complained to me and to Monsignor [Joseph] Schumacher," who has since retired as the diocese's No. 2 official.
"Father Magaldi asked one of our staff members to get the names and phone numbers of four teenage boys in the parish. He said he wanted to take them to a Texas Ranger game as thanks for serving a funeral Mass. ... I met with Father Magaldi and told him this was inappropriate. I cautioned the staff to let me know about any other requests he had."
In a third incident from fall 2000, according to the Keller pastor's memo, Father Magaldi toured church facilities with a woman and her teenage son, whose shirt advertised a flat-screen TV as "thin, attractive and available. ... The priest touched the boy on the bottom and said something like, 'You are not very thin back here.' "
This incident was reported in early 2001. About that time, Bishop Delaney again removed the priest from ministry.
But he did so without explanation to parishioners. And later in 2001, when Father Magaldi began planning a move to Florida, people at his previous congregation in North Richland Hills organized a party to honor him.
One more report of misconduct lay ahead, from a priest who led the North Richland Hills congregation.
"I had one of Fr. Phil's supporters in my office today," the Rev. Tim Thompson wrote to Bishop Delaney in October 2001. "She reports that a friend of hers, who worked for Phil taking care of his mother, found material on Phil's computer and on his desk that showed he was in chat rooms looking for minors ... that he had pedophilic material.
"She ... was shocked to hear this and, of course, felt deceived by Phil."
Father Thompson urged Bishop Delaney to alert a bishop in Florida, "if he is still thinking of letting Phil work there."
"I doubt," the priest added, "that there is anything we can or need to do here."
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