Clergy Sex Abuse News Sparking Fresh Controversies in Places like Dallas and Oklahoma City
By Bobby Ross
September 5, 2018
Here at GetReligion, Terry Mattingly and Julia Duin have done a fantastic job analyzing national and international media coverage of the recent barrage of Catholic clergy sex abuse news.
I'm referring to the headlines that have followed the Pennsylvania grand jury report and the allegations by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano.
Here in the Southwest, I've noticed, too, that the world events have helped bring attention to previously unknown cases on the local level, specifically in Oklahoma City and Dallas.
These are cases that perhaps would have remained under the radar if not for the attention on the larger issue.
In Oklahoma City, for example, the Pennsylvania report drew attention to the fact that a defrocked priest who had been accused of abuse years earlier was volunteering at a local church.
Carla Hinton, religion editor for The Oklahoman, reported that news on her paper's Aug. 25 front page:
Local Catholic leaders will publicize a list of names of priests who are credibly accused of abuse, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City said Friday.
With such a list posted on the archdiocese's website, a defrocked priest like Benjamin Zoeller likely would have been prevented from volunteering at a local parish.
That is the hope of archdiocese leaders who learned that Zoeller was volunteering at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, 2706 S Shartel, when a staff member at the church called on Thursday to tell them about it.
"As soon as we received the call, we contacted the pastor and others to make them aware of his background and that he is not to volunteer or work at a parish or any archdiocesan entity," archdiocese spokeswoman Diane Clay said.
Clay said Zoeller was removed as a priest with the archdiocese in 2002 because "credible accusations of abuse" were made against him. She said he was laicized or formally relieved of his priestly rights and duties in 2011 by Pope Benedict XVI.
Archbishop Paul S. Coakley asked for a review of Zoeller's file after receiving an Aug. 17 letter from a Minnesota man who said he had been sexually molested by Zoeller in the 1980s when Zoeller was a priest at an Oklahoma City parish. Clay said Coakley also called for an independent investigation into the matter.
But a local advocate was skeptical of the claims that the archdiocese didn't know about Zoeller's volunteer work:
A member of a victims advocacy group said Friday it was unconscionable that Zoeller was allowed to volunteer.
"We are grateful that Archbishop Coakley has now taken decisive action to correct this dangerous situation. However, while it is true that Mr. Zoeller was removed from the priesthood before the archbishop began his tenure in Oklahoma City, we find it very hard to believe that Archbishop Coakley was not aware that a laicized priest was volunteering at a local parish," said Melanie Sakoda, volunteer secretary of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).
Kudos to Hinton for following up on a tip and reporting the story.
Meanwhile, The Dallas Morning News — which has no full-time religion writer — had an in-depth piece on Sunday's front page concerning a missing priest accused of wrongdoing, including sexual abuse and stealing money given to the church:
The Dallas story is intriguing and well-reported, with a variety of sources and helpful details.
The disgraced priest Edmundo Paredes disappeared from Dallas six months ago.
He left behind a mystery much deeper than where he is today.
Paredes leaves questions about who he truly was, what he did to the people he was supposed to serve and what harm he caused, not only to his alleged victims but to a Catholic diocese in Dallas already stained by a sexual abuse scandal stretching back more than two decades.
The fear now is that the questions will never be fully and publicly answered. Police are not investigating the sexual abuse allegations that surfaced this year against the longtime pastor of St. Cecilia Catholic Church in north Oak Cliff. Paredes’ accusers are not talking — not to police and not to the media, anyway.
Earlier this summer, the Dallas diocese quietly reached a financial settlement with the three male accusers, the details of which are confidential.
Bishop Edward Burns acknowledged to the Morning News that he would not have made public the abuse allegations if not for the recent world headlines:
The bishop’s visit was one of several trips he made to St. Cecilia in August, when he stood before the parish to share the allegations against Paredes.
He said he had not brought up the matter earlier to respect the victims’ request to keep the allegations private. But a report about abuse and cover-ups in the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania prompted him to inform the parish.
The recent spate of sex abuse scandals prompted Burns to announce Thursday he was petitioning Pope Francis to convene a meeting of Catholic clergy at the Vatican — called an extraordinary synod — to address the issue.
Some parishioners still have questions about St. Cecilia’s coffers. And the victim advocacy group SNAP — Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests — criticized Burns for not telling churchgoers about the sexual abuse complaints sooner.
I just happened to catch the Oklahoma City and Dallas stories because I subscribe to those cities' newspapers.