Ex-priest with Nm Ties Gets Life for Murdering Texas Beauty Queen
December 7, 2017
A jury on Friday sentenced an ex-priest — who once headed the Servants of the Paraclete retreat house in Jemez Springs — to life in prison for murdering a 25-year-old Texas schoolteacher and beauty queen.
Prosecutors asked for 57 years, reflecting how long John Bernard Feit, 85, has walked free since he killed the young woman who went to him for confession at a Texas church in 1960.
The Edinburg, Texas jury found him guilty Thursday in the killing of schoolteacher Irene Garza in McAllen, Texas.
She disappeared April 16, 1960. Her bludgeoned body was found days later. An autopsy revealed she had been raped while unconscious, beaten and suffocated.
Prosecutor Michael Garza, who is not related to the victim, asked the jury not to view the now elderly and weak Feit as he is today, but to try to imagine him as a 28-year-old man capable of subduing the woman.
Feit, then a priest at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen, came under suspicion in the investigation early on. He told police that he heard Garza’s confession in the church rectory rather than in the confessional, but denied he had killed her.
Among the evidence that pointed to Feit as a suspect over the years: Two priests told authorities that Feit had confessed to them. One of them said he saw scratches on Feit soon after Garza’s disappearance. His portable photographic slide viewer was found near Garza’s body.
Feit had also been accused of attacking another young woman in a church in a nearby town just weeks before Garza’s death. He pleaded no contest and was fined $500.
Feit was administrator in the 1960s at the Servants of the Paraclete facility in Jemez Springs, where he oversaw priests sent there for counseling. Several were later accused of sexually abusing New Mexico children while serving in parishes here, according to court records.
Among the priests Feit oversaw was James Porter, who pleaded guilty in 1993 to molesting 28 children during his time as a priest in the 1960s and early 1970s in the Fall River (Mass.) Diocese.
Porter was sent to the Servants of the Paraclete in Jemez Springs in 1967 and, from there, was transferred to St. Alice Church in Mountainair, where he allegedly abused more children. Porter died in prison in 2005.
Feit told New Mexico attorneys in a 1994 deposition that he became the superior of Via Coeli retreat house the Servants operated that accepted troubled priests sent from dioceses across the U.S., including priests accused of sexually abusing children.
The Servants closed its retreat house in the early 1990s as the first of hundreds of lawsuits were filed against the order and the Archdiocese of Santa Fe alleging their complicity in sexual abuse cases by priests.
Brad Hall, an Albuquerque attorney who has filed 58 lawsuits on behalf of alleged victims of sexual abuse by priests, said Feit participated in decisions to assign known abusers to New Mexico parishes.