Abuser's Record Slipped by
Fw: Diocese Lawyer Can't Explain Why Priest's File Wasn't Revealed Sooner
By Brooks Egerton
Dallas Morning News [Fort Worth TX]
December 16, 2006
In 1998, Gilbert Pansza admitted to Fort Worth Catholic Bishop Joseph Delaney that he had sexually abused a child decades earlier.
Two years later, Bishop Delaney ordained him to the priesthood anyway. In 2002, the nation's bishops agreed that no known abuser could serve in ministry. Father Pansza went on working despite this "zero tolerance" policy and soon was promoted to a pastor's job.
In 2004, a judge ordered the Fort Worth Catholic Diocese to surrender all its records on priests accused of sexual abuse. It turned over nothing about Father Pansza.
An attorney for the diocese, John Crumley, said Friday that he couldn't explain any of it.
The diocese's spokesman, Jeff Hensley, continued his recent practice of not responding to inquiries from The Dallas Morning News.
Mr. Crumley said that all the decisions were made under a prior diocesan administration. He added that he knew nothing about the matter until a few days ago, when Bishop Kevin Vann learned what was in Father Pansza's file and decided to remove him from his church in Wichita Falls.
"I think their first concern was removing him from active ministry," Mr. Crumley said. "You sit down and look at everything else later."
Bishop Vann became leader of the diocese last year, when Bishop Delaney died. Church officials say the late bishop's two top aides, the Rev. Robert Wilson and the Rev. Joseph Schumacher, also knew about Father Pansza's admission.
Father Wilson hung up on a reporter who tried to question him Friday. Monsignor Schumacher could not be reached for comment. Neither man works as a top aide to Bishop Vann.
Father Pansza could not be located for comment and has not spoken publicly about the situation.
Mr. Crumley said that Bishop Delaney was too debilitated by cancer treatments to deal with the 2004 court order.
The job of reviewing clergy files and turning over records on abusers probably fell to Monsignor Schumacher, Father Wilson or both men, he said.
Another lawyer, Jim Bennett, represented the diocese in the civil lawsuit that led to the court order. He did not respond to messages Friday.
The lawyer for abuse victims who sued the diocese in that case, Tahira Khan Merritt, said Thursday night that the failure to surrender the Pansza file "raises in my mind serious questions about whether the judicial process was abused." She urged the judge in the case and the Tarrant County district attorney to investigate.
Diocese officials did turn over seven priests' files to Ms. Merritt in response to the 2004 order but persuaded the judge, Len Wade, to seal them from the public.
The Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram fought that in court and last month won release of more than 700 pages of material. The documents showed that Bishop Delaney and his aides helped predators stay in the ministry for two decades while hiding information from police and the public.
The district attorney's office is now reviewing the unsealed material and deciding whether to investigate further.
Furthermore, North Richland Hills police are investigating an allegation that one of the seven priests, the Rev. Philip Magaldi, sexually assaulted a boy in 1994. Father Magaldi has denied wrongdoing.
The abuse Father Pansza admitted occurred in the 1970s, according to a diocesan news release.
Mr. Crumley said Bishop Vann's top aide, the Rev. Michael Olson, has now provided information to authorities in Tarrant County and in the Texas county where the abuse occurred.
He said he didn't know the name of the second county.
Mr. Crumley said the abuse came to light in 1998 when someone contacted the diocese and identified a possible victim of Father Pansza, who was then studying for the priesthood.
The alleged victim and Father Pansza said the caller was mistaken, according to Mr. Crumley, but the priest admitted abusing someone else. The attorney said Father Olson is now trying to locate that victim.
No new allegations led to the recent discovery of the admission, Mr. Crumley said. Instead, he said, Bishop Vann simply wanted a fresh set of eyes on all personnel files.
That review, he said, is continuing.
Mr. Crumley said he wasn't sure whether he'd be willing to turn over the Pansza file now, because the litigation that produced the 2004 court order is over.
"I wouldn't see a reason for it," he said.
When U.S. bishops adopted "zero tolerance" in 2002, their president promised a new era of "openness, forthrightness and courage."
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