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  Diocese Reveals Another Abuser
FW Officials Say Review Turns up Priest on Duty until This Month

By Brooks Egerton
Dallas Morning News [Fort Worth TX]
December 15, 2006

http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/news/localnews/stories/
DN-fwdiocese_15met.ART.North.Edition1.3e2bd52.html

The Fort Worth Catholic Diocese's sexual abuse cover-up scandal widened Thursday, as Bishop Kevin Vann said church officials had left a priest on duty until this month despite his admission that he sexually abused a child in the 1970s.

The bishop said at a hastily called late-afternoon news conference that officials discovered the admission from the Rev. Gilbert Pansza only recently while "continuing to review the files of the diocese" and now have removed him from his pastor's job in Wichita Falls.

A Tarrant County judge ordered the diocese to review all clergy files in 2004 and turn over all records of abuse allegations to Dallas lawyer Tahira Khan Merritt, who had filed a lawsuit accusing the diocese of covering up such matters. Those files included nothing about Father Pansza.

Ms. Merritt reacted angrily Thursday night to Bishop Vann's announcement that the church had left Father Pansza on duty, despite the admission of sexual abuse.

"This so-called sudden discovery of an additional file raises in my mind serious questions about whether the judicial process was abused," she said.

"How many more files are yet to be discovered?"

Ms. Merritt urged Judge Len Wade, who oversaw the litigation, to look into the matter.

She also called on the Tarrant County district attorney to launch a criminal investigation and obtain, by subpoena or search warrant, all diocese files on sexual misconduct allegations.

During the litigation with Ms. Merritt, the diocese was forced to give her files on seven priests other than the one who was accused of abusing her clients. Judge Wade sealed the seven priests' files at the diocese's request.

Last year, The Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram began a court battle aimed at unsealing those records. The newspapers won the fight last month, obtaining more than 700 pages showing how church officials helped predators stay in ministry for two decades while hiding information from police and the public.

"The Tarrant County district attorney's office has started looking into matters regarding the disclosures," prosecutor Mitch Poe said Thursday night. "We take these types of abuse scenarios very seriously."

Additionally, North Richland Hills police are investigating a recent allegation that a priest named in the records, the Rev. Philip Magaldi, sexually assaulted a boy in 1994 outside a shopping center.

All of the abusers whose records were unsealed worked under Bishop Vann's predecessor, Bishop Joseph Delaney, and have been removed from ministry or died. Bishop Delaney died last year.

Nearly half of the 700 pages deal with Father Magaldi, who worked as an associate pastor at St. John the Apostle in North Richland Hills until 1999 and has denied wrongdoing.

Father Pansza, 55, held the same position at St. John from 2000 the year he became a priest until 2002. He could not be reached for comment Thursday night, nor could diocesan officials.

The abuse Father Pansza admitted occurred long before he became a priest, a diocesan news release stressed. It did not say when he admitted it.

Church officials said they have received no accusations that he has abused any children since becoming a priest. U.S. bishops agreed in 2002, at a historic summit in Dallas, that any priest who had ever sexually abused a minor would be permanently barred from ministry.

From 2002 until June of this year, Father Pansza was pastor of three small churches in Bridgeport, Decatur and Jacksboro. In July, he became pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Wichita Falls, according to the news release.

Father Pansza previously was the subject of news coverage in 2005, when he was kicked out of a privately run state prison in Bridgeport. Warden Priscella Miles said then that she ended his volunteer ministry to male inmates because of his demeanor and because he created security problems, according to the Wise County Messenger.

The priest was quoted as saying the trouble began when he insisted that Catholic Masses get as much publicity as other religious services. He also said he didn't know what he had done wrong.

E-mail: begerton@dallasnews.com

 
 

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